From Mining Town to Mt. Rushmore

The Big Trip Out West

Though I haven’t even been home for more than a month, I’ve been pretty busy. Almost immediately after coming home, my family and Julia set out on a great adventure west. We wanted to see some of our nation’s most beautiful parks during the Centennial of the National Parks Service. Our goal was to visit the Badlands, the Corn Palace, Custer’s State Park, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Craters of the Moon, Crater Lake, Redwoods State Park, Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Sequoias, Moab, Canyonlands, Arches, the world’s best cinnamon roll at Glen Haven, and Trail Ridge Road. But even the perfect plan can have its bumps and amazing surprises. Come along on the journey, as I’ll be posting each day (and roughly each park) throughout the next few months.

Day Two of the Journey:  Deadwood, Spearfish Canyon, and Mt. Rushmore

After traveling 1521 miles, we woke up this morning to a 67° day with some wind. Julia headed down to the gym this morning with her abundant energy and knocked out a mile run before I was even out of the shower. After we dressed, we met Mom and Dad for breakfast. You never know what hotel breakfast is going to be like, so I loaded my plate with fresh scrambled eggs and peach yogurt. Julia managed to finally get ahold of her mom back in England and skyped for a few minutes while we loaded up the car. Our first accident happened, when Dad sliced his finger open, but all was well after a bandaid or two. Traveling is a dangerous pastime!

All’s Not Dead in Deadwood

Hopping onto I-90, we headed toward Sturgis. Our first stop this day was at Deadwood, which is an old mining town that’s become a tourist haven.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Throughout the town are a few informational signs about the history, and one of the most interesting things that I read about was the influx of Chinese immigrants to this area. After the miners moved here, the Chinese immigrants came to essentially establish the town, building Laundromats, grocery stores, and restaurants. While the storefronts are still beautiful and you feel like you’re passing real saloons, the town has really taken advantage of the mining town tourism industry.

Deadwood, South Dakota

All of the shops are full of tacking shirts, mugs, bottle openers, and knives, and almost every other shop is a bar. We did find a cute little coffee shop that had some amazing cinnamon rolls, but their coffee was only so-so. It’s difficult to top Mettricks. We didn’t just leave with the food, though: Julia picked out a tacky South Dakota shirt while she could!

What’s Hiding Underground?

After our stop in Deadwood, we visited the old mine and science center in Lead. While you can only see the top portion of the mine from the viewing platform, there is a remarkable exhibit inside that shows the interconnected layers that descend down into the ground.

Lead, South Dakota

The museum is free to look through, so definitely make it a point to go inside, as you can learn so much about the effects of a mine on a community and what happens with it once it’s mined out. Because the town was built so close to the mouth of the mine, houses would actually begin collapsing into the mine shafts during the early years of Lead. Today, scientists have built a laboratory deep within the Earth here. Elevator rides to the bottom of this mine can take up to ten minutes, and the temperature can fluctuate from 100° in the bottom of the mine to 0° outside in the snowy plains.

Our First Waterfalls

Taking US Highway 14, we drove through Spearfish Canyon next and stopped at two waterfalls.

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

The first, Roughlock Falls, was a very popular destination, and many people clogged the walkways. It was just a small waterfall tucked in a crevice with two alternate views. The second waterfall was Bridalveil Falls. It’s a relatively small waterfall compared to what we saw later in the trip, but it was still a beautiful sight and was surrounded by yellow leaves. Unfortunately, it too was a popular spot, and tourists left the viewing deck to climb down the cliff, cross the creek, and stand right up next to the waterfall. It’s not the easiest place to get a nice photo, but it is a nice view and worth the stop if it’s not too busy.

Bridalveil Falls, South Dakota

Spearfish was a neat town, but we didn’t have too much time to stop here. For some reason, this town is completely covered in motels. We actually found one of the motels that my grandparents had stayed in just a few days earlier. Spearfish also has a lot of coffee shops, so it might be a nice place to stay over on another trip out west.

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Underestimating Mt. Rushmore Was A Mistake

We then took I-90 to I-85 and headed toward Mt. Rushmore. At 5:10 pm, we pulled into the parking lot, and some friendly, white, mountain goats said hello. Now I need to be honest with you. I did not expect Mt. Rushmore to really be that cool.

Mt. RushmoreMt. Rushmore

“Faces in a mountainside? They can’t really be all that amazing, surely.” But they were incredible. When you think about this massive sculpture taking 14 years to carve and imagine how they were able to chip away at a mountain face with horses and old pulleys, you begin to fully appreciate the skill that went into making Mt. Rushmore. We lingered around here for a long time, watching the sun descend and the shadows fold across the presidents’ faces.


Mt. Rushmore

Our journey then took us to Crazy Horse, a more modern mountain sculpture. Using binoculars, we identified the small black dots on top of Crazy Horse’s arm as tractors, backhoes, and bulldozers. Today, it’s probably a bit easier to carve a rock face, but it still takes longer than you would think. Since Crazy Horse will be accompanied by a large horse sculpture as well, I am not sure how soon this piece of art will be completed.

It’s Like Finding a Needles in the Dark

In the twilight, we decided to head up The Needles Highway and traveled through Hood Tunnel in the dark. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see any of the amazing rock formations along the road, and the tunnels were a bit scary in the darkness. After traveling only a quarter of the road, the police stopped us. They were blocking the road up ahead due to a climbing accident at the rock climbing school near Sylvan Lake, and we chose to turn around.

Custer, South Dakota

At Custer, we stopped in at Frontier for a bite to eat. From the outside, it could be the bar Peewee Hermann stopped in on his bike adventure. There were even a few tumbleweeds that passed from the kitchen to the bathroom inside. It may be an active place during the high tourist season, though. They had a large Jenga set that we played together while we waited for our food. The burgers there looked awesome, but I was only able to find a salad on the menu. Don’t worry. I supplemented it with lots of tater tots!

Rockin’ With Jesus at the Rocket Motel

The Rocket Motel, Custer, South Dakota

That night, w stayed at the Rocket Motel. It’s an amazing old motel that’s being restored in its original style by its sweet owners. The black and white tile and red accents made you feel like you were staying in a different era. I should note that the shower head was a bit short, and the water was slow to heat up. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been renovated by the time you arrive there. Fantastic little place, and definitely recommend for a nostalgic traveler. And it’s in a perfect location for beautiful scenery, taking in Mt. Rushmore, and bicycle rallies.


Be kind to one another,


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