Black Hills Tourists

Yesterday we closed out our first month on the road. Donna and I talked about how the time seems a bit warped. On one hand, it seems like the month flew by. On the other hand, when we think about all of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve visited and the things we’ve seen, it doesn’t seem possible that it all happened in only a month’s time.

I am humbled by the fact that more than 4,000 hits were recorded on this blog at the end of our first month. I hope our readers will continue to follow our travels and find our adventures interesting.

Yesterday I rode the scooter to Rapid City. I went to the Black Hills Credit Union to deposit checks. This has been an ongoing quest since we picked up our mail in Madison. The Black Hills Credit Union is affiliated with my credit union in Michigan. I made the 19-mile ride feeling confident that this task would finally be completed.

Along with my checks I brought my Genisys Credit Union debit card, the bank routing number and my checking account number. To my dismay, the teller asked for my credit union member identification number. She couldn’t help me without that number! After a couple of failed attempts I was able to contact Donna and get my member identification number. Attempting to deposit these checks has really tested my patience. The people here in South Dakota are so friendly and genuinely apologetic when they can’t help and that makes it easy for me to keep cool.

When I returned from the credit union, Donna was working on her newsletter. She was having trouble with the formatting for viewing via smart phone. I don’t know how that works, but apparently there are certain things that have to be specially formatted to be viewed properly on a smart phone.

After eight or nine test versions were sent to my phone, she was still finding errors. I was getting impatient. It was after 11am, I was hungry and wanted to head toward Mt. Rushmore and get something to eat along the way. Donna decided to take a break and finish the formatting after we returned from our sightseeing trip.

During Donna’s early morning walk, she talked to the owner of the Heartland RV park (where we are staying). He gave her tips on which route to take to Mt. Rushmore and other sights to see. He told her I should stop by the office and he would give me a map.

While Donna was working I walked to the campground office around 10:30am. It was closed with a sign on the door saying they would return at 11:00am. There was a UPS driver at the door making a delivery. I talked to him and he suggested taking route 40 to Keystone, then go up the hill to Mt. Rushmore. He described Keystone as a “tourist town.”

I went back to office at 11:00am and found a note saying they would be back at 11:30! I gave up on getting a map of the local attractions and decided to follow the UPS driver’s advice. We rolled out of here a little after 11:00am. Route 40 was a scenic ride on a smooth winding road that gained elevation over the 20-mile ride to Keystone.

When we entered Keystone, I saw a sign that said the population was 397. As we rode through the town at 30mph, it didn’t look like a “tourist town” at all. It looked rather shabby and run down. With a population of 397, I didn’t think it would extend more than a few blocks. I was really hungry at this point and stopped at the first place that offered food.

We went into an establishment that was a combination antique/junk dealer, bar and restaurant. I use the term restaurant very loosely. The man behind the counter said he had pulled pork but it was cold (apparently he had only just turned on the crockpots) or he could serve us pizza. This wasn’t a good start to our day trip. Donna asked if there were any other places to eat nearby. To my surprise he said we just needed to go up the road to the “new Keystone.” Apparently we were in “old Keystone.”

A half mile up the road we found the “tourist town” the UPS driver described. The new Keystone is a couple of blocks of buildings with old west facades. It has numerous restaurants and shops including the usual souvenir shops and of course, Black Hills gold jewelry.

We had lunch at the Red Garter Saloon and were entertained by the staff and cowboy re-enactments in the street. We walked up and down the street to take it all in before we rode up to see Mt. Rushmore. My take on it is this; the “old Keystone” is where the population of 397 lives. The “new Keystone” is where they work. Without the new Keystone there wouldn’t be much reason to live in old Keystone.

When we entered the Mt. Rushmore parking lot we stopped at a toll booth and were charged $11 to park. I guess they justify the $11 fee by telling us it’s good for a whole year. I forgot about my National Parks Pass; actually I didn’t realize it would cover parking fees.

I remembered visiting Mt. Rushmore when I was kid in 1967. Things change over 46 years. My recollection is of an open parking lot and short walk to the viewing pavilion. There were telescopes that cost a dime for three minutes of viewing.

Today there’s a parking deck. The walk to the pavilion is longer and there are more buildings. They have the flags of the fifty states of the union displayed. You can rent headphones for an audio tour. There’s a trail you can hike called the Presidential Trail. The 10 cent telescopes cost 50 cents now.

State flags on the pavilion

State flags on the pavilion

My recollection might be flawed after all this time, but it seems to me that the sculptures have deteriorated. I remember being struck by the way Teddy Roosevelt was depicted with wire rim glasses. Now the wire rims are barely there. That’s not to say it isn’t still an an awesome sight. It’s incredible. It’s also an American icon with international appeal. We heard a few different languages spoken among the crowd there.

By the 25 cent telescopes

Here again after 46 years

From there we made the 11-mile ride to the Crazy Horse monument. This is another impressive sight. It’s a work in progress and won’t be finished in my lifetime. We backtracked to the Hwy 16 junction and followed it to Custer State Park and the Needles Highway.

At this point we were over 6,000 feet above sea level. The RV park we’re staying at is about 3,500 feet above sea level. The route we followed into Custer State Park was a winding road with tight switchbacks. The first switchbacks had speed advisories of 15mph. Then we saw 10mph as the switchbacks tightened. Eventually there was a switchback marked 5mph! This road was steep and tight. I wouldn’t want to take an RV up it.

We stopped at Sylvan Lake. I can’t describe the beauty of this lake. It was so peaceful and an awe inspiring sight. From there we rode the Needles Highway. This road has a few tunnels that are one lane, only 8 feet wide and about 12 feet high. At  one tunnel we saw a tour bus inching its way through! The driver had to fold the mirrors in for clearance. I don’t know how he made it.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

We saw a mountain goat with two kids along the roadside. I also saw a bull bison five feet off the road (somehow Donna missed seeing him). We stopped at scenic overlooks with vistas beyond description. We took a break for ice cream at a shop along the way. Donna was gushing over the sights she had seen. She’s loving our new home state. I wish I could find the words to describe this magical place. I’ll just have to say, you must visit the Black Hills and Custer State Park.

Mountain goats

Mountain goats

Today will be a maintenance day rather than a tourist day. I’ll ride to Rapid City for groceries and do laundry here at the park. I also need to lube the rams on the hydraulic jacks and slide outs on our motorhome. Maybe I’ll find an interesting book to read at the campground office.

Tomorrow, we’ll pack up and head to Wyoming.


9 thoughts on “Black Hills Tourists

  1. Kimberly Cole

    Hey There!
    It’s so strange, your staying at the same park we were in during our time there in July. We love the are so much and are already looking forward to going back! Custer State Park is amazing. If you feel like going out tonight, go up through Custer State Park to where it borders with the Black Hills,. there is an overlook there where you can clearly see Rushmore. If you go at night, they light Rushmore up and it’s an awesome sight to see at night. The schedule for the lighting is on the Mt. Rushmore website, but don’t take the time as gospel. It lit more than 30 minutes later than scheduled on the night we went.
    As for the park your at, we didn’t like it – or the owners at all. Space size was way to small and when we tried sitting out under our awning, we were right on top of our neighbors sewer line and power post. We also witnessed the owners of the park beating one of their horses, we contacted local authorities about it, but nothing was done. The beating took place in excess of 15 minutes! Multiple phone calls to authorities and still, no one showed to stop it.
    I hope you had a better experience in the park than we did. Still, I wish we were there again!
    Best of travels to you!


    1. Mike Kuper Post author

      We don’t have any neighbors in the sites on either side of us, so that hasn’t been an issue. It may not be our favorite park but the location is convenient. That horse story is horrible. There are eight horses in the pasture adjacent to the park.

  2. cynthia smith

    I spent two nights in Custer 9 years ago on my last cross-country drive and had a wonderful time in Lower Stockade Lake campsite. I went back this year and things had changed. There were no first-come, first-served tent sites. Even at the park, I had to call the SD Parks Department reservation line to get a site. The only thing available was at the Upper Center Lake site, which is not the nicest campground with distant showers. Very inconvenient. The fees had gone up (no surprise there.) However, the wildlife loop road is still beautiful. I went in the morning around 7 am and saw very little wildlife at the roadside but this year it was much hotter and they were probably at higher elevations.

    It’s still a very nice state park and the Needles Highway is the best way to view Mt. Rushmore. I would not pay the $11 to park and since I had my dog with me, there was no way I could leave him in an unshaded lot. My problem with the Black Hills is that the landscape is wonderful, but the towns are very touristy and busy. The horse story is very disturbing.

  3. esta and joel

    Hi, we loved custer state park, in fact we went there twice in one week. You will adore Wyoming, it is our favorite place, do not miss Cody, it is only 45 minutes from yelllowstone. I hope you will see our blog, we are headed to las vegas tomorrow and to drs. checkups and hairdo, I have a hairdon’t right now, we have been on the road for about 4 months and have put almost 8,000 miles on, it is quite an adventure.

  4. Susan Kelley

    I have a photo of my husbands grandmother standing in from of Mt Rushmore with only 2 1/2 faces done. Yes, Mt Rushmore is impressive. When you get to Wyoming, one place to stop is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming.

    1. Mike Kuper Post author

      That photo is one to hold on to and cherish! We aren’t sure if we’ll go through Cody or not, decision will be made in the morning.

  5. Vivian Price

    I find your blog very interesting. I have never taken a trip in an RV, but it sounds exciting, and I am enjoying reading about your adventure. Back about 15 years ago, I had a friend who wanted to sell his house and do exactly what you and your wife are doing, but his wife wanted to build a new house, so that’s what they did. Glad you are realizing your dream, too many people put it off until it’s too late.

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