We have now ventured into parts unknown . . . South Dakota!
Our first stop was in Sioux Falls.
The next day we drove to our home base for the next few days, Rapid City. It turns out that we arrived in the midst of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which explains why it was so hard to get a campsite. The rally has been happening for 79 years in Sturgis, which is fairly close to where we are. Hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists attend the festivities – it’s a pretty awesome event and something we really wanted to see one day!
As we were getting closer to our campsite, we kept seeing billboards advertising 3 nights for $39, which was no where close to what we were paying, at $80 a night! So of course we asked about this deal that we weren’t getting. We figured because of the Sturgis Rally, prices were up. Not so! Our RV park, Rushmore Shadows, is a membership resort, and, if we would attend a brief ‘membership introduction meeting’, we too could camp for $13 a night!
Yes, we attended the time-share meeting. No, we did not sign up for anything. Yes, we camped 3 nights for $39! 😊
So, with the money we saved, it was a no-brainer to sign up for a day of sightseeing. With thousands of motorcyclists in the area, it was extremely busy and we didn’t want to take the chance of being turned away from any parks, again, so thought this was a good idea.
It was an early start as we were picked up at the resort and driven the short distance to Fort Hayes, for an all you can eat pancake breakfast!
Fort Hays was where the movie ‘Dances With Wolves’ was filmed.
After breakfast, we boarded our bus for a guided tour of the Black Hills.
First stop – Mount Rushmore National Memorial! This was our main reason to come to South Dakota and we couldn’t believe we were finally here!
The detail of the carving was incredible, and the fact that you could actually see the glasses that Theodore Roosevelt wore, was amazing. So cool. A lot of the area is under construction, so we couldn’t get as close, but it was still pretty impressive.
Mount Rushmore was originally going to be carvings of 4 famous cowboys/movie stars. Gutzon Borglum, the artist, decided on four presidents because from his perspective, they represented the most important events in the history of the United States. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson were the first 3 easy decisions, but the 4th choice was not so easy. After some debate, it was agreed that Teddy Roosevelt would be the 4th face, as he was to represent the development of the United States.
The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”
Back in the bus, we drove the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway that took us over the Iron Mountains, through some teeny, tiny tunnels that the bus barely fit, and over some pretty awesome ‘pigtail’ bridges. Peter Norbeck designed the road system and tunnels before Mount Rushmore was even carved, but his vision was totally evident. As you exited each tunnel, the view from every one of them is Mount Rushmore! Pretty neat since it was just a blank mountain at the time of the tunnel construction.
We then drove through Custer State Park to view wildlife, but we only saw one big Elk buck.
Our next stop was for lunch at the State Game Lodge, which was once the presidential summer house to President Calvin Coolidge. It was a great lunch and their specialty was Buffalo Burgers and Buffalo Stew.
Back in the bus for a drive along the Needles Highway for more beautiful scenery and tiny tunnels. Our bus was 8 feet wide and one of the tunnels was 8 feet 4 inches wide, so it was a fun, tight fit!
We had a quick pit stop at Sylvan Lake, which was a beautiful man-made lake located at the bottom of Harney Peak.
Our final tour stop was at Crazy Horse Memorial. It was started by Korzak Ziolkowski in 1948 (and is still being worked on by his children and grandchildren), and once complete, this tribute to the Lakota leader will be the largest mountain carving in South Dakota, and the world. Ziolkowski was adamant that the government not be involved in funding the project, to ensure he didn’t have to hand control over to any official, so lack of funds have greatly slowed the project down. They are currently working on the outstretched arm and hand, and there is no completion date on the horizon.
The bus dropped us back off at a Fort Hays for a Chuckwagon Supper and Dinner Show. For any of you that know Timberline Ranch in Maple Ridge, that is what the experience reminded us of! We had a ‘cowboy supper’ (baked potato, beans, applesauce, beef and chicken) slapped on our tin plate, with a bun and coffee cake placed on top. It was really good 😃. We then had to clean our plates and tables to get ready for the show. The wranglers that served us then took the stage for a fun music and comedy show!
We were exhausted by the time we were dropped back off at Monty, but it was a an excellent day full of history and amazing scenery!
And yes, we did have to check out Sturgis! All we kept thinking about was Clint Eastwood and ‘Every Which Way But Loose’. Right turn, Clyde!!! 🤪
Driving from South Dakota to North Dakota is pretty well a straight road heading north. Not much more to say about that!🙄
We stayed in the town of Dickinson, which is fairly close to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We drove most of the scenic route through the park – part of it was closed due to a mudslide – so couldn’t make a complete loop. We saw wild horses, prairie dogs and lots of buffalo!
The nearest town to the park is Medora, and there are 2 names you hear a lot as you wander the quaint cowboy town: Marquis de Mores and Theodore Roosevelt.
Medora was founded in 1883 by French nobleman Marquis de Mores, who named the city after his wife Medora von Hoffman. He wanted to ship refrigerated meat to Chicago via the railroad so he built a meat packing plant for this purpose and a house named the Chateau de Mores, which is now a museum.
Theodore Roosevelt had started visiting the town from the time he was a young man, aged 24, for hunting, and fell in love with it and the Dakota’s. He invested in ranches in the area in the 1880’s and later stopped by Medora on a Presidential visit in 1903. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most influential and iconic Presidents in the history of the United States — and he believed that he would not have reached the heights he did, had it not been for his time in Medora and the Badlands of North Dakota.
Medora is well known for the Medora Musical, which is a musical revue set in the beautiful outdoor Burning Hills Amphitheater, and takes a look back at the Wild West days of the region and includes a lot of references to Theodore Roosevelt. It first premiered in 1965.
The Burning Hills Amphitheater itself was first built in 1958, one mile west of Medora, for the production of ‘Old Four-Eyes’ to help celebrate Theodore Roosevelt’s 100th birthday. This show died due to lack of interest and closed in 1964, but was soon taken over, revamped, and became the Medora Musical.
The view was spectacular and the stage was a replica of the old town. There were a few horses – not enough for our liking 😉 – and the production was ok. It’s an extremely popular show and rated very high on TripAdvisor, so we guess it’s the right thing to do when in Medora. Not the best show we’ve ever seen, but when in North Dakota . . . . . .
Our last night in North Dakota was in Minot, which was also our final night of this trip in the USA. The adventure continues! 😎