South Dakota Road Trip

Stop #2 – South Dakota | Cross Country

After sleeping off almost two-days’ worth of driving, we enjoyed a full-night’s rest in our

Barlee's food and drink restaurant in South Dakota
The only open restaurant in the off season

quaint hotel room. We showered off the last 24 hours of driving and drank some coffee to recharge for our day visiting national monuments.

Small Town

I never realized that South Dakota had such an adorable town just outside of the monument. It’s unfortunate that we drove in during the off-season; however, seeing the rugged town that’s been seemingly untouched for what looks like 100 years just gives me more incentive to travel back to South Dakota.

So, if you’re traveling to see Mount Rushmore for a couple days and you want to make the most of your visit, call ahead to see what’s open, and take extra caution if traveling during the March and April months.

Crazy Horse Monument

After breakfast, we first drove to the Crazy Horse monument, which we had seen signs for the night before. It was still in progress, so we only took pictures from afar. The entrance fee was $10 per person, which seemed a tad overpriced for something that is still in the making. I understand the need for funding the project, but we were on a tight budget and short on time; it’s a little hard on the wallet when we still have more sites to see on such short notice.

From what we saw from afar, it looked like it had potential. We drove up to the gate, then turned back. We were too excited to get to Mt. Rushmore anyway. Hopefully, the Crazy Horse monument will one day be up to par with other monuments, and at a more reasonable price, too.

Black Hills National Forest

We drove along the Black Hills National Forest, making our way to Rushmore. I’m not sure why the forest is named thus. The trees are thick and majestic, but they aren’t actually black. They’re slightly dark, but it’s subtle.

Regardless of the name, the view is captivating, making me feel like we’d traveled back in time as we came upon the occasional old hut or home that look like they’d been sitting there for the past hundred years. Sadly, this was all missed last night when we impatiently started our search for Rushmore. It was a lot easier to enjoy the view in the day time, I must admit.

George Washington profile on Mt Rushmore
Washington’s profile on the road

Nearing Mt. Rushmore, we didn’t even have to get to the park before we could see the monument very clearly. I actually enjoyed seeing it at the various angels along the road, which are rarely shown by pictures in our history books.

Mount Rushmore, National Monument

Mt. Rushmore’s parking was only $11. It’s opened all-year round, and our parking fee entitles entry for the entire year. What a bargain!

Seeing the faces of our founding fathers in the daylight was much more impressive than mt rushmore and mebeing lit at night. It was definitely worth the wait. The details etched into each of the giant busts could not have been done justice with the lights shining from below their faces. (Remember telling ghost stories in the dark with a flashlight under your chin?)

Even though I’ve seen photos of the monument more times than I could ever count, and despite the fact that the faces look exactly the same as they do in pictures, it is still awing to see them in person. It’s hard to understand the true size and magnitude of such a creative project until you see Mount Rushmore face to face. Literally.

We enjoyed the massive scene with perfectly warm weather outside, and even had a great view from the café, where we ate buffalo chili and a bison burger. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between buffalo and beef, but the buffalo is supposed to be healthier, interestingly enough.

bison burger buffalo chili Mt Rushmore
Eating exotic at the the Rushmore cafeteria

Though we had a wonderful 2-hour visit at Mt. Rushmore, taking our time reading plaques, absorbing the history and appreciating the scale of this project, I watched the nearby families – parents struggling to keep their teenagers and young children interested in the historical mountain. After noting the faces of boredom on the youngsters, I mentally planned to avoid such a visit with my own future children until they’re old enough to appreciate it.

To Chicago, IL

After staring at the giant faces and visiting the gift shop, around 2pm, we were off to Chicago, IL. Our plan was to switch off driving for the next 15 hours, but (like much of our last-minute trip) some things just don’t go according to plan. It’s another all-nighter of driving before we finally get to rest in a proper bed, again. Sigh. I lovingly patted my pillow good-bye as we exited our hotel room with our meager belongings.

Speed Check

On a side note, I should mention the importance of watching your speedometer when driving out of state. Just before hitting South Dakota, we drove through the corner of Wyoming. We were in the state no more than five minutes when we were pulled over for doing 70mph in a 65mph zone. Apparently, speed limits can change instantly when you enter a new state.

I was concerned what the police officer must have thought of us. California license plate, disheveled looking drivers, red eyes from sleep-deprivation, a backseat full of snacks and a large cooler. Hmmm…

Luckily, we were let go with a warning and a bit of knowledge worth sharing. A lot of highway patrolmen are situated along borders to catch people who don’t realize there’s been a change in the speed limit. We just happened to cross a kind officer that day. Whew!

So, let that be a warning to the rest of you, and a lesson to us.

From there on out, we made sure to recognize crossing any state borders and keep the cruise control strictly on the speed limit, even if we were only in a state for 30 minutes or less. In actuality, using the cruise control, even at the minimum speed, makes driving long distances so much more comfortable and worry-free, anyway. We should have been doing that all along.

On to Chicago!


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  1. Brings back memories!
    I’m amazed Crazy Horse hasn’t been finished, it was still a wip in 1997.
    Mount Rushmore is spectacular although given all that’s happened to the Native Americans, to create the monument in that state seems a bit of a cruel joke.

    1. It is sad that Crazy Horse hasn’t completed yet. It’s amazing to see sculptures of such magnitude, like Rushmore, despite it’s cultural significance. But, such is the nature of our American history, unfortunately.

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