Yellowstone Vacation Day 3: Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park

Mon. 15th, Aug. 2016

The breakfast at our hotel was seriously lacking so we headed straight for Wall Drug. No one in our group is really big into kitschy, touristy stuff, but there are some things that people rave about so much you feel like you have to see it just so you can say, "Yes, yes, we saw that."

The breakfast and 5-cent coffee was kind of a bust, but it was edible. The rest of Wall Drug was more like a....mall? There are a bunch of little stores connected together. Out back is a large courtyard and then another section of restaurants and stores.

One thing's for sure, there are plenty of picture-taking opportunities.


[caption id="attachment_3030" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Wall Drug Wall Drug[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3029" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Watch out, Don! Watch out, Don![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3031" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Tim's New Squeeze Tim's New Squeeze[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3032" align="aligncenter" width="200"]I'm just as confused as you are. I'm just as confused as you are.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3034" align="aligncenter" width="300"]One of many jackalopes we found on our vacation. One of many jackalopes we found on our vacation.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3035" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Well, that's it. We've arrived. Now we can go home. Well, that's it. We've arrived. Now we can go home.[/caption]


After looking around a bit we headed to Mt. Rushmore. I wasn't expecting much, but was really awed. It's so impressive in real life!


One of the bummer things about photographs on vacation is that you are where you are when you are. That's a stupid sentence. What I mean is, you don't get to choose what time of day you go and you can't scout the location ahead of time to know when you're going to get the best lighting for certain shots. So, if I was a professional, I'd stay all day and get shots at specific angles to ensure the best possible lighting. There are so many pictures from these two weeks that I so wish I could have done differently, but you work with what you've got, you know? MR-Ben

[caption id="attachment_3038" align="aligncenter" width="300"]First View First View[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3039" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Me! Me![/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3040" align="aligncenter" width="300"]View from the trail View from the trail[/caption]

We walked the Presidential Trail, viewed the museum and the sculptor's studio, and the boys completed their JR books. We also may or may not have had (HUGE) ice cream cones in place of lunch. (Everyone was eating ice cream there!!)

We hopped back in the van and headed South, out of the park and along the Iron Mountain Rd. It was a fun drive after so many days of the badlands. There were lots of pine trees and beautiful summits. The pigtail bridges are every bit as fun as they sound.

[caption id="attachment_3041" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Iron Mountain Road Overlook Iron Mountain Road Overlook[/caption]

This is where Luke announced, loudly, "Mom, I've really got to go poop." A lady standing nearby overheard and cracked up. She gave me a knowing look and said that she had boys, too.

[caption id="attachment_3042" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Taking in the view Taking in the view[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3043" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Tunnel. Do you see what I see? Tunnel. Do you see what I see?[/caption]

We continued South to Custer State Park.

Oh, Custer State Park. Early in our trip I'd looked into stopping by, but I just didn't think we'd have time so I removed it from the itinerary. In the week prior to leaving I had not one, but two, different people rave about the park and insist I make time to go. TripAdvisor rated it highly and we were doing well on time so we went ahead.


Maybe it's just because people raved and so I expected too much? I don't know. It just wasn't exciting at all. The Visitor's Center was dull. The drive was dull. It was pretty enough if you lived in the area and you wanted a nice place to have a picnic and maybe see some wild animals, but it wasn't worth raving about, in my opinion.

That said, it was smack in between Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway so it's not like we went out of our way. Just wish it had had more "wow" factor.

[caption id="attachment_3050" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Wild Donkeys Wild Donkeys[/caption]

We may or may not have fed these donkeys some banana chips.

[caption id="attachment_3051" align="aligncenter" width="300"]You. Shall. Not. Pass! You. Shall. Not. Pass![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3053" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Wild Horses Wild Horses[/caption]

A storm came up. We were fortunate that it was just ahead of us. We had some rain, wind, and a bit of hail, but nothing awful. As we ascended into the mountains, along Needles Highway, we saw that we'd been pretty lucky!

[caption id="attachment_3047" align="aligncenter" width="300"]That's not snow, that's hail! That's not snow, that's hail![/caption]

After the disappointment of Custer, I wasn't sure if I could trust my memory of Needles Hwy, but it was every bit as cool as the pictures I've seen. Lots of "oohs" and "aaha."

NH-Needles-Formations NH-Needles-Rocks

[caption id="attachment_3046" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Everybody hold your breath! Everybody hold your breath![/caption]

This tunnel was so tight that one of our side mirrors was scraped up! Oops.


Just as we were leaving the park we came upon this sight:

[caption id="attachment_3052" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Final Gift - Sylvan Lake Final Gift - Sylvan Lake[/caption]

Oh my word. Stunning.

As if all of that weren't enough adventure for one day, we pressed onward toward Devil's Tower.

Now, again, maybe it has to do with expectations, but Devil's Tower was way cooler than I was expecting. There wasn't much to the Visitor's Center, but there was a nice trail around the base of the formation and it was wooded which offered some shade and was a nice piney contrast to the stark rock.


[caption id="attachment_3055" align="aligncenter" width="200"]View from the trail. View from the trail.[/caption]

I'd printed off the JR booklet for this park and the boys and I had worked on it in the car. We had some searching to do in the museum and then we had to hike the trail, but that was all and they were done in no time and sworn in.

[caption id="attachment_3056" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Heading out Heading out[/caption]

After leaving, we found a little park...pulloff (?) that has a path that leads you right through a prairie dog town....

[caption id="attachment_3057" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Prairie Dog Prairie Dog[/caption]

....and then to this sculpture. I'd seen pictures like this online, but didn't bother to really dig into location, etc, so it was a nice little surprise.

[caption id="attachment_3058" align="aligncenter" width="300"]But wait, there's more! But wait, there's more![/caption]

We continued to press on and found ourselves in Medora, ND by nightfall. Only one restaurant was open, The Hitching Post, but nobody had it in them to complain. We ate dinner and then crashed for the night. Talk about a packed day!





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