If you ever travel to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore you might want to allocate some time to drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. It is a 22-mile route, along Alt-14, which begins at Exit 10 off of Interstate 90 in Spearfish. The scenery is breathtaking. You are surrounded by thousand-foot-high limestone palisades. Spearfish Creek flows along the road and there are numerous canyon waterfalls to see.
Weather during our drive was less than optimal. It was rainy and cold. While it wasn’t nice being out in the elements, it did lead to some good pictures. Generally, nature pictures in the middle of the day do not turn out well. A cloud ridden day can be helpful for color saturation, which was nice to have since the leaves were showing off their Fall colors.
Along the route we stumbled upon the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and Latchstring Restaurant. Although we weren’t very hungry, we decided to stop in for a bite to eat. Mostly, we stopped in for some warmth. We were cold to the bone and it was raining pretty hard at the time. We were glad we stopped, as lunch was very good.
Following lunch we headed over to Lead, SD. Lead was founded back in 1876, after the discovery of gold in the surrounding mountains. It is the site of the Homestake Mine; the largest, deepest (8,240 feet) and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere before closing in early 2002. In the early 1900’s Lead was the second largest town in South Dakota. The town is fairly quite today. While in Lead we took a tour of the Black Hills Mining Museum. It was an informative and interesting tour, which we enjoyed.
Our next stop was Deadwood. This is a quaint old Western town with cobbled streets. We were surprised to find that every gift shop, hotel and restaurant in this small town had some type of casino gaming equipment. If you like to gamble, you shouldn’t miss this place. It is gambling mecca with an old Western spin to it.
After thoroughly enjoying our day trip we returned back to our RV, located at the Spearfish Walmart. Because it was late in the afternoon we decided to spend a second night there.
The following day we were ready to head down to Mt. Rushmore. However, after we turned on the Tire Pressure Monitoring System we found that one of the front Jeep Cherokee tires had low pressure. A nail was embedded in it. Fortunately, there was a GoodYear Tire store just down the road. We ended up replacing both front tires.
We made it down to Keystone (Mt. Rushmore area) by mid-day. Many of the campgrounds were closed for the season. Fortunately, we found a Travelodge Hotel that also had a few RV spots for rent. We parked the RV, unhooked the Jeep, and headed off to see the area.
Our first stop was at the Crazy Horse Memorial. This monument is one of the world’s largest sculptural undertakings. Once completed, it will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.
Next, we took a drive through Custer State Park. The park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and is noted as having an abundance of wildlife. However, we did not see any wildlife, aside from deer. We did enjoy driving amongst the tall granite spires and squeezing through the small tunnels.
We ended our short road trip at Mt Rushmore, just before sunset. I’ve seen so many pictures of the monument growing up that seeing it in real life was a little anti-climatic. Regardless, I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit. It is such a unique tribute to these four presidents.
For dinner, we decided to try out the only restaurant in Keystone that was still open at this late time of the season. It was a cute old Western style restaurant, called Ruby House.
The next morning we packed up and headed off for the Badlands. More on that later…..