Monday, August 11, 2014

The Great American Road Trip: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Ah - Mount Rushmore!  It's another one of those places that you have to see!  Especially when you are going to be near it - like my family and I were for our Great American Road Trip.

Before our visit to Mount Rushmore we read some age appropriate tales about the monument.  It was amazing to realize how much we knew before we even got there!

Some of the books we read.
We stayed in Keystone, SD the night before our visit.  It is right outside of the memorial entrance.  My hope was to get to Mount Rushmore right when it opened so we could avoid huge crowds.  I thought Keystone was going to have a few motels out in the middle of nowhere.  It's actually a neat town in the base of the Black Hills.  There weren't many "chain food" places which added to the unique character of the tourist town.

I noticed this "thing" as we traveled through town.  I'm not sure of the official name or cost but you can take a ski lift up to the top of the hill.  There appears to be a deck at the top of the hill where you can get a great look at Mount Rushmore.

Hard to see in this picture but the deck is near the top right corner of this picture.

There is a fee to get into the park but the pass you receive is good to return as many times as you would like in the next year (if you have the opportunity to).  I was not able to use my national park pass for this park...

Interesting to see the before and after of the hill.

We parked in the Lincoln Parking Ramp.  There were a few people there already but we did get a parking spot near the entrance.  However, I think that was because not many people wanted to park in the sun so they parked on lower levels.

Headed to the monument from the parking ramp.

There were many ranger guided tour options.

The columns leading to the monument all have these on them.  One for each state.

There is a great path that takes you closer to the monument.  It's not that long and very easy to walk.

There are some steps but really only in two main areas.
This area is right outside of a small museum and gift shop.

Getting to know the presidents:

George Washington

Abraham Lincoln

Thomas Jefferson

Theodore Roosevelt

Part of the museum on the trail.  This was the model for the project.
Eventually they realized the project was going to be very hard to complete so it was decided to just focus on the heads by not including the bust.
Worth mentioning:  There is a lot to see, many shopping options and restrooms throughout the park.  The food...  There are soooo many options!!!  It's all in one large building that is split up into sections with a variety of meal types.  I can't say that I have seen another like it at the other national parks I have been too.

Other area attractions to consider (I was not able to visit these):

The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park, South Dakota

I think it is obvious that we LOVE national parks!  There are so many great and unique things that each one of them offers.  The Badlands is no exception.  My families "Great American Road Trip" took us right next to a scenic loop of the Badlands National Park.  As you can see by the map below, we traveled West via 90 so we took 240 into the park and then back to 90 right into the city of Wall.  There is a fee to enter the park but we were able to use our annual pass.

Here are a few pictures of the sites:

When we entered the park we were at the top of the mounds.

It didn't take long before we were at the base of the mounds.

We saw many people hiking through the area and climbing on some of the towers/mounds.  My kiddos were not very interested due to the heat and the warning signs for rattlesnakes!

The visitors center was pretty interesting and the staff is very knowledgeable.  They have a small museum, a pretty decent size store, restrooms, and more.  They also have a room where they work on fossils.  We got there just before the "fossil room" closed to guests. 

Seeing the work being done.

The visitors center offers a movie to guide you through the history of the park and how it is constantly evolving.

So much more to see as we continued through the park:


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Great American Road Trip: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Devils Tower was a must for our "Great American Road Trip".  Partly because it was very close to our route but also because it is an interesting site with a lot of legends to explore.  

We were traveling on 90.  As you can see, the trip to Devils Tower is like a big loop.  For our route, it made more sense for us to travel through the bottom side of the park and to also exit through the same side.  

On this map I have highlighted our route taken.

A view from far away.

Entering the park. There is a campground and a store at the entrance.

Up close.

Up close.

Up close.

Wildlife along the way.

Another angle on the way out of the park.
I thought this side was very interesting.
It looked nothing like the other angles we had seen!

There are a lot of prairie dogs just after you enter the park.
We got out of the car and walked on a path through their field.  They were so fun to watch!

Feedback and tips from our visit:
  • There is a visitors center with a small museum, small store, and restrooms at the center of the park.  You can also hike around Devils Tower from that point.  We opted to not do that since we had limited time available that day.   I have heard that the trail is steep and not very shaded. 
  • People do climb the tower.  I have heard it is interesting to watch.  We were there in June and climbing is not allowed in June to respect the heritage and culture of the American Indians.
  • Seeing the tower was cool but my families favorite part was the fields full of prairie dogs!
  • There is a fee to enter the park.  We were able to use our National Park annual membership card. 
  • I highly recommend bringing food with you.  Once we left 90 the places to get food were very limited.  There is a restaurant just before the entrance of the park.  However, it wasn't a fit for my picky eaters.  
  • Devils Tower is not a place I would go to again.  But, only because I feel like seeing it once was enough.  It is amazing and worth checking out if you are in the area!