My Journey To Mount Rushmore
Most of my recent travels have been to smaller, lesser-known destinations like Greenville, South Carolina, and a random, rural town in southern Illinois. As much as I enjoyed experiencing those places, I was beyond excited when my Godmother invited me to come along on a trip to Mount Rushmore.
Finding Things To Do In Nebraska – Carhenge
We wanted to see as much as we possibly could, so we flew into Denver and found a way to stop in Nebraska on our way to South Dakota. While Lincoln and Omaha would’ve taken us far out of the way, Alliance, the city of just over 8,000 people, was right on our path. Inside Alliance, we found two things: one of the strangest yet most fascinating tourist attractions in America, and really good Mexican food.
Carhenge was completed by an artist who definitely asked, “why not?” instead of “why?” Just picture Stonehenge – the magnificent stone monument built (according to Google) in 3100 B.C. Then picture Carhenge – a 1987 Stonehenge replica but made with old cars. We wandered around Carhenge and took photos for about 20 minutes, signed our names on the autograph-designated vehicle, took turns guessing what was inside the time capsule, and went on to find lunch.
Alliance, Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of food options, so we went with the small chain, Mi Ranchito. The food was really good. The queso was great, my taco salad was very fresh, and we were all satisfied with our Nebraska stop.
Road Trip Through South Dakota
I didn’t really think driving through South Dakota was something I’d ever do, but it’s going to go down as one of my greatest travel experiences. We left western Nebraska’s flat farmlands and entered South Dakota by way of the snow-covered rolling Black Hills.
While we were driving up, we had to slow down as there were bison IN THE ROAD! This New Yorker was amazed. We drove up through Hot Springs, SD, then through Wind Cave National Park and up into Custer State Park. Once in the town of Custer, we had lunch at Black Hills Burger & Bun Co., where I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had – a Greek burger with feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and a Kalamata Olive spread.
The little Airbnb cabin we rented was almost in the park! I highly recommend it. It had a beautiful view. It was snowing when we arrived, and I felt like I was in a Christmas movie set.
Visiting Crazy Horse
Our first stop the next morning was the Crazy Horse memorial. If you don’t know what Crazy Horse is, it’s a memorial for “Crazy Horse,” a Native American war hero. The memorial is a mountain carving built into the Black Hills (much like Mount Rushmore).
The catch is that Crazy Horse isn’t actually completed yet! His face is complete, but it’s a family-owned project with limited funds. We learned from the museum that the artist (Korczak Kiolkowski), who passed away in 1892, turned down government funding out of fear that the monument would become a tourist trap and out of respect for private enterprise.
Regardless, the museum and gift shop are how the family is able to keep working on their project – and it has an impressive setup. We learned a lot, saw the monument, got some cool souvenirs, and headed off to Mount Rushmore.
On the way, we drove back through Custer and came across a whole bunch of deer and rams right along the side of the road. We stopped back at the local sports bar and restaurant, “Bulgin’ Bull,” for lunch.
The Amazing Mount Rushmore
I’ve read the reviews, I’ve heard the stories, and it seems to be a popular opinion that Mount Rushmore “isn’t worth the trip.” People have said that you stand there and “oooh” and “ahhh” for a few minutes, then you leave. After spending at least an hour at Mount Rushmore, I can now say that I firmly disagree with those people.
It was almost spiritual, standing there in awe. There were a couple of other groups there that we had not met before, but everyone was looking at each other like, “whoa, do you SEE this?” I imagine not many Americans make the trip to Mount Rushmore twice, so we were all experiencing it for the first time.
I’ve read about it, seen movies and TV shows that feature it, learned about its history, but standing in front of it was, well…really cool. The museum and gift shop are cool, but the best part was standing there in awe over the fact that I was finally looking at this amazing piece of history and art that I had been hearing about for my whole life.
There’s a reason millions of tourists flock to it. Plus, nearly 80 years after it’s completion, Keystone and the surrounding towns are full of great bars, restaurants, hotels, and things to do. Not to mention all the beautiful national parks that you can explore when you come to visit Mount Rushmore. It really is a lot more than just staring at a rock.
Deadwood, The Pretty Little Mountain Town
Our original itinerary had us spending two nights at the little cabin near Custer State Park, but then we found out about the Forks, Corks, and Kegs festival happening in Deadwood, South Dakota, about an hour’s drive north. During the festival, almost every bar on Main St. opens their doors to bracelet-wearing patrons and offers beer, wine, and appetizer tastings. It’s awesome.
Plus, we got to see the adorable little town of Deadwood. Deadwood has a huge history dating back to the Gold Rush and famous frontier men like Wild Bill Hickok. You can walk right by the site of Wild Bill’s death and gamble in the same town that historic American figures once gambled in.
The Long Drive Through Wyoming
Since we had all flown into Denver, the next day was only spent driving the six hours back down from Deadwood to Denver. Most of the drive was Wyoming’s eastern border.
Wyoming was nothing new to me, but driving through 250+ miles of it was. Keep in mind that by this point, I had already experienced driving through Nebraska, but Wyoming was EMPTY. And by empty, I don’t mean farm after farm…I mean empty. We saw the road ahead of us and the mountains around us, and we passed a farm maybe every 20 miles? We saw another car maybe every 10 miles? I had never experienced such flat roads with so little civilization.
Driving through Wyoming is something every New Yorker or other big city-liver should experience. That’s one of the reasons I began this “50 States by 25” journey. I want to see how the rest of this beautiful country lives. Those Wyoming farm owners probably think I’m crazy to have grown up in New York, while I can’t imagine how they can live way out there.