I apologise to everyone for my lack of prose, unfortunately it is not a talent I possess. To everyone who answered my questions and to those who provided answers to the many other questions on the forum, THANK YOU. Your comments and insights were invaluable in the planning and execution of our holiday. I also apologise for the length of the trip report.
This trip report is part of a 6 week vacation which included Vancouver, 10 day Alaskan Cruise & a 28 day driving tour. Our drive started in SLC, then through Colorado. The aim was to go to the Aquarium in Vancouver, the cruise, Mt Rushmore & Yellowstone. Everything else was a bonus.
MONDAY 30th ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK to FORT LARAMIE to CUSTER STATE PARK (341 mi 6 hrs) (3 nights Custer)
We were able to have a late start today as we were going to do the 1000 Trolley Tour. Because it was a public holiday the tour went for 120mins not the usual 90 minutes. The driver was very knowledgeable. The tour included a stop at the Wild West Museum for approximately 30 minutes. Not really long enough to see everything but sufficient if you focused on certain aspects. It was here that I left my newly acquired Klondike Railway Tour cap. Lunch was a light snack at Carl’s Jr. The food was good but the service was horrendous. Our next port of call was Fort Laramie. The volunteers were dressed in period costume which enhanced the experience. Definitely worth the stop as several buildings have been restored and furnished. I had only allowed 2 hrs here which was rushing it. A further hour would have been sufficient. We were off to The Mammoth Site, at Hot Springs. Each tour lasts approximately 30 minutes and the last tour was at 1900. We arrived in good time and managed to get into the 2nd last tour. If you have any interest in archeology you will love the Mammoth site. The place was fascinating and not to be missed IMO. We were given suggestions of where to eat in town but a lot of places were closed due to the holiday so we continued onto our final destination of Custer. The receptionist suggested the restaurant in front of the hotel for dinner, but like many establishments it was closed. We eventually ate at the Dakota Cowboy Restaurant. DH ordered an entrée and a main. When his entrée came out it was so large he canceled his main meal order. The food was okay, nothing special.
Overnight Best Western Buffalo Ridge Inn
TUESDAY 31st BLACK HILLS OF SOUTH DAKOTA
Lots planned to day starting with driving the Wildlife Loop Road, entering at the eastern entrance. We left the hotel around 0830 thinking this would give us sufficient time to get there and to drive the 18 miles of the Wildlife Loop Road. We saw only a few of the 1,300 buffalo that inhabit the area and only a handful of White-tailed deer. We didn’t see any elk or big horn sheep. The burros were a long way off under a stand of trees but didn’t come looking for a handout. Our next stop was Wind Cave National Park where we planned to do the Garden of Eden Cave Tour at 1000. Unfortunately a bison jam delayed us by 10 minutes which was enough time to ensure we could not make the tour. The next available tour was the 1100 Natural Entrance Cave Tour a 1 ¼ hr 1/2-mile trail which included 300 steps to see boxwork, cave popcorn, and flowstone formations. I had planned to return to Custer via the Mt Coolidge Fire tower. We decided if we wanted to visit Jewel Cave we had to bypass Mount Coolidge and head back to Custer on the main road. We had a quick lunch at Dairy Queen before heading out to Jewel Cave National Monument. We were able to book the 1400 Scenic Tour, described as a moderately strenuous tour which lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes and includes walking up and down 723 stair steps along a 1/2 mile loop. I preferred Jewel Cave (didn’t really notice the steps) over Wind Cave. The next stop on our agenda was the CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL. It was definitely worth paying the $20 entry. The video presentation about the creation of the monument was excellent. We paid the extra $4pp to ride the bus to the base of the monument for a side on view. The driver (72yo) was extremely informative. I was surprised when he said he had only been there for 2 weeks. DH moved our car to the front row of the top carpark for uninterrupted views of the Legends in Light Laser Show at the bus driver’s recommendation. I had heard the Laughing Water restaurant(open till 1900) made good Indian Tacos. The tacos were okay. No taco has come close to those we had at Cameron Trading Post south of Page in 09. Whilst we were waiting for our food to arrive four children entertained us with a native dance demonstration.
Overnight Best Western Buffalo Ridge Inn Custer
WEDNESDAY 1st BADLANDS
Our first stop today was Wall Drug where we checked out the souvenirs. DH was keen to do the tour of the Minuteman Missile so we rang and left a message and they rang back. We picked the tickets up on our way through to the Cedar Park Lodge Restaurant where once again we decided to try the Indian tacos for lunch, only to be disappointed again. We headed back to the Minuteman Missile site for the 1330 tour. It was a brief but interesting tour. We stopped at the Prairie Homestead and watched the antics of the Prairie dogs before continuing into the Badlands NP again. We drove straight past the car park where the Door, Windows and Notch Trails all leave from. DH isn’t keen on ‘hiking’ so kept driving until we reached Cliff Shelf. We walked the .5 miles/.8 km (round trip) 1/2 hour trail. The walk was okay. I think we would have had better views at Door & Window. We stopped briefly at the entrance to Saddle Pass, took some photos and left. We stopped at nearly all the overlooks and saw the one thing I would have been happy not to, a rattle snake at the end of a wooden walkway basking in the sun. I would have liked to stop at the Wounded Knee Museum in Wall but it was too late in the afternoon. I think DH would have liked to visit the airforce base, although I’m not sure what touring if any is available. We had dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. We both chose the Wednesday night special ‘all you can eat ribs’. The ribs were barely warm, very disappointing. We wandered around to let dinner settle and came across numerous sculptures of all the American presidents on each street corner. There is a store which was still open and had information about the presidents and the constitution. I was surprised by how many presidents I recognized by sight. Unfortunately we chatted to the lady who works there a little too long and didn’t have sufficient time to make it back for the evening lighting ceremony at Mt Rushmore.
Overnight Best Western Buffalo Ridge Inn Custer
THURSDAY 2nd CUSTER
We arrived a little before 0900 at Black Hills Aerial Adventures (15mi 25mins drive north of Custer) http://www.coptertours.com/tours.htm where we were planning on flight # 6 Ultimate Tour, a 35mi flight over Crazy Horse, Sylvan Lake, Harney Peak, Mt Rushmore, Needles & Cathedral Spires. Unfortunately they had a helicopter that could accommodate DH (over 300lbs) but not a pilot available to fly it. We decided to head to Bear Country www.bearcountryusa.com/visitors/index.php
in Keystone and ring later to see if we were going to fly that afternoon or the next morning. I loved Bear Country. I could have spent hours watching the antics of the 29 baby bears in residence. We had lunch on site (much cheaper than similar places back home). We rang BH Aerial Adventure and confirmed we were flying the next morning. We drove back to Custer so we could drive north on the Needles Highway. I had planned to hike to Harney Peak or the Sunday Gulch Trail, but had to settle for the more sedate Sylvan Lake hike (1 mi). We continued north to Keystone for dinner at Big Time Pizza at Roosevelt Inn. I was never going to love it despite all the recommendations as I’m not a big pizza fan. We had one hour before the evening lighting ceremony began at Mt Rushmore. I had sufficient time to watch the video and read the descriptions of all the presidents. There was some overlap in the video presentation I had watched and the ceremony, but I found it interesting, and I’m glad I made the effort to go to it.
FRIDAY 3rd MT RUSHMORE via IRON MOUNTAIN RD - DEADWOOD
Once again we headed north to Black Hills Aerial Adventures, arriving a little before 0900. Once the paper work was completed we were off. The views were spectacular. My only regret is I couldn’t say I had hiked to the fire tower on Harney Peak. By 0930 we were driving south back through Custer SP to Iron Mountain Road, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. We managed to get one photo of Mt Rushmore framed in one of the three tunnels. The Needles especially the eye of the needle was unique. I was hoping to go on a guided tour at Mt Rushmore , but unfortunately the timing was wrong so I elected to walk the Presidential Trail independently. I was aware of the time constraints so decided against the audio guide. We drove to Cheyenne Crossing, located at the south entrance of Spearfish Canyon for our last chance to eat Indian Tacos. It was not meant to be. They had a power outage. Disappointed we headed back to Deadwood to check in. I caught the trolley bus into town $2pp(no change given) so I could go on a tour of Deadwood. I had planned to go on the Kevin Costner’s Original Tour but it was fully booked so I went across the street and booked with Boothill Tours for 1700 instead. With 1 1/2hrs up my sleeve I headed to the Adams House Museum before heading back for my tour. The driver /tour guide was very informative. Unfortunately my phone wasn’t working so I was unable to ring my DH. I decided to get back on the trolley bus and head back to the hotel to grab DH and head back into town for the re-enactment of Wild Bill Hickok being shot. I managed to catch the wrong bus and instead of getting off back in town to watch the shooting when I had the opportunity I stupidly stayed on the bus until it reached our hotel at 1900. We drove into town and had dinner at the Midnight Star, but not at Jakes as we had originally planned. We wandered around and viewed the clothes from numerous Kevin Costner movies, including Bull Durham, The Body Guard and Dances with Wolves. After dinner we wandered around town stopped briefly outside the location of the original Saloon No. 10 where Wild Bill was killed, walked through the current No. 10 saloon and also The Celebrity Hotel which also had numerous costumes and other movie paraphernalia.
Overnight Deadwood Comfort Inn Gulches of Fun
SATURDAY 4th DEADWOOD - DEVILS TOWER MOMUMENT – BUFFALO
First stop was TATANKA “The Story of the Bison,” one mile north of Deadwood on U.S. Highway 85. A native spoke of her people, the Lakotas before we were escorted out to see the sculptures Kevin Costner had commissioned. The sculptures were arranged to resemble a buffalo jump. We were escorted into a very small room to watch a video about the site. We had the opportunity to view the artifacts on display before continuing onto Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway via the southern entrance 20 miles southwest of Deadwood. We stopped at the first car park near Roughlock Falls only to decide it was too far to walk. DH decided we should head up the dirt road as the information I had indicated it was a short walk from the car park. We were rewarded by a very short walk and multiple views of the falls. Our only other stop was at Bridal Veil Falls (SD). Other highlights of the scenic byway were the film site for the winter scene in ''Dances with Wolves'', Spearfish Falls which flows over a rocky outcrop into Spearfish Creek and Victoria's Tower an unusual rock formation which can be seen from three sides as the highway wraps around it. We didn’t manage to find these. We had a quick lunch at Taco Bell in Spearfish before continuing on to Sundance for a photo op with the statue of ‘The Sundance Kid’. On the spur of the moment we decided to stop at the Vore Buffalo Jump site. The site is small and required only a small detour off the interstate, and a little over 30 minutes in time. It allowed us to see a buffalo jump in action and put the sculptures at Tatatanka in perspective. The young girl working there recommended going to Devils Tower via Aladdin and stopping to taste the best apple pies ever made. Unfortunately I had set my heart on stopping at Sundance. We had plenty of time to look around Devils Tower Monument www.nps.gov/deto/planyourvisit/things2do.htm The 1.3 mile (2 km) hike which circles Devils Tower itself is a relatively easy walk once you get up to the base of the monolith. The walk was made even more enjoyable as we had the opportunity to chat to a young couple about working conditions in the USA. We saw three climbers at various stages in their climb ascending the monument. On our way out of the park we stopped at the circle of sacred smoke sculpture which honors the American people as a gesture of world peace by sculptor Junkyu Muto. It was designed to help raise visitor awareness of the importance of the tower to over twenty affiliated tribes. We stopped at the prairie dog town which we had passed as we drove up to the monument. The town is huge with three distinct lookouts where you can watch the prairie dogs. With two hours driving to Buffalo still ahead of us we ensured we left the park by 1700. Dinner was at The Virginian Restaurant in the Occidental Hotel –famous for gunfighters Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody www.occidentalwyoming.com/Our%20Menu.htm The food and service was excellent. We chatted to some tourists and some locals for over an hour before heading to our hotel.
Overnight Holiday Inn Buffalo
In hindsight we did double up on some of our driving. It would have made more sense to go back to Sylvan Lake then go to Bear Country in the afternoon. Such is life. I still loved every minute of our trip. We continued on through Wyoming to Yellowstone/Tetons and back to SLC over the next 2 weeks.