We started our day with a broken silverware drawer and leaky sink (leaking into the silverware drawer). We tried to call an RV repair person but they were booked until Saturday. Not wanted to waste our one full day in the Black Hills of South Dakota we decided to deal with it later and start our day by driving to The Needles of Custer State Park. How could I not know of this place. Nestled in the Black Hills its one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on. Granite spires, narrow roads, mini-tunnels, one lane roads, expansive vistas. It was beautiful and stunning and very curvy.
After the Needles Highway we stared up the Iron Mountain Highway which was similar with narrow roads, one lane bridges, tunnels, and pig tail loops. Through the last one you can see the first glimpse of Mt Rushmore in the distance.
We drove on to Mt Rushmore amidst the hoards of patriotic Americans that made this seem more a pilgrimage to Mecca than a National Monument. I was skeptical about these carved white guys. But I have to say the did a very nice job managing the untamed hoards, and the sculptures are extremely well done. The vistas are thoughtful as is the presidential walking trails closer to the monument. It was actually very well done and impressive.
After Mt Rushmore we went on to Crazy Horse. We’d heard mixed reviews about this place. Its it more about the Native Americans or the Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski? ? We paid far to much money to get in, but after watching the film, viewing the museum and site and seeing the vision I’m still on the fence if this is a good thing for the Native Americans or not. Apparently the Native community is also divided on the subject. Its not an easy position to take as I can see both sides of the debate. In the end, I’m glad we went so we can make up our own minds about it.
After Crazy Horse we drove to Jewel Cave National Monument. But they had sold out all tour tickets for the day. We wondered how to bide our time as it was 3:45 and driving to another attraction might mean arriving after closing or after tickets had sold out. But we had passed a horse stable a few miles back. We doubled back to the Spirit Horse Escape and asked if they had rides available. They did. So we sent the kids (and Tawny) out for an hour long ride. All the while I had a beer with the owner and talked about the best routes for tomorrow en route to Devil’s Tower and Cody, Wyoming.
I’m not sure what my favorite part of the Terry Bison Ranch RV Park and Campground was my favorite? Was it the stench of bison dung wafting in so strong that we had to keep the r-pod trailer tight as a drum? Or was it the thundering whoosh of Ford F-150s and Semis careening down Interstate 25 at speeds well exceeding the posted 75 MPH limit? No, it was probably the yippy little dog barking in the tent site adjacent to ours starting at 5am. Or perhaps the experience of heading to the shower facilities but after seeing their condition deciding against it. Needless to say, this was not my favorite campground. But we wanted to make the most of it, so Tawny took the kids to see the giant stuffed jack-a-lope and some of the animals they have on the ranch which I had the pleasure of emptying our holding tanks.
Then we hit the road. We decided to drive up highway 89 from Cheyenne to Custer and back road it a bit. It was an excellent choice and a stunning drive. Lush grasslands. Rolling hills. Rock formations. Antelope. And no services. We saw a sign saying “Next Services 74 miles” and my trip calculator on our truck told us we had 89 miles left. That was cutting it a little close but we had no choice but to carry on. We made it to fuel with few fumes to spare in a little town called Torrington where we had lunch and visited a rock stop to buy geodes. Then we carried on. As we crossed into South Dakota we took a little detour to The Mammoth Site which is the largest concentration of mammoths in the world. It was a fascinating little tour (still excavating) and museum. It reminded me very much of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
We drove through very cute little Hot Springs, SD (someplace I’d like to explore more) and headed to our campsite in Custer, SD at Fort Welikit and unhooked the trailer to head back into Custer for dinner. We went to Black Hills Burger and Bun which hands down had the best burger I’ve ever tasted. We all thought so. This was really one incredible burger. First of all it was Bison, and the most moist and juicy burger I’ve had. It was simple, and not oversized. It was just right – a Goldie-Locks burger. I had The Hot Granny – Bacon, cream cheese, chopped fresh jalapenos, and sweet/spicy jalapeno sauce. It was indescribably delicious. OMG. I can’t even begin to emphasize how good it was. Go there. Go there now. Get in the car and go.
We walked out of the restaurant planning to go to Custer State Park and see some animals, but a storm was clearly brewing. Dark clouds. Lightning. Winds whipping up. We decided to go anyway and see what we could see since we have limited time here. We drove the southern “wildlife loop” and saw a few antelope, elk, and a few bison, with one buffalo crossing just in front of our car. “You were delicious” I thought to myself. “And you are huge. Please don’t smell your brethren on my breath and destroy my car”.