Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why Mount Rushmore IS better than Machu Picchu. For now.

This time last year, I was making plans for a family trip to Peru.  Even went so far as creating an itinerary with a tour group specializing in family trips to Machu Picchu.  

I was visiting my dad at the time, who is supportive but wiser-than-I-am.  He was even interested in joining us in Peru (I get some solid "adventure" genes from him), but he said to me: "You know... there is a lot of the United States your children haven't seen yet."  He made some disturbingly logical points about maybe waiting a couple of years, so the trip could be more enjoyable and we could do more things.  Blah blah blah. Things a soul-level adventurer doesn't want to hear.  All delivered with that gentle-wisdom that he specializes in, where you know he'll be supportive either way.

And truth be told, there were several things on the Peru itinerary that seemed completely fabulous for an OLDER Simone.  Peruvian traditional dance lessons, for example. White water rafting, for another.  Apparently, it's not wise to bring 2-year-olds white water rafting.

Dad mentioned Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore as one thought, and I agreed that I'd loved them as a child.  

I mulled over it for awhile and then decided that he was right: I *do* want to show my children the world, and that includes the United States.

So I called and cancelled with the Peru trip planners and I started reading through brochures of the new road trip. I went online to make reservations for Old Faithful Inn (a YEAR in advance) as that had been a goal of mine to see.  Turns out, I could get *one* night there.  One!  So that became the tent-pole for the rest of the trip's plans.  Within a week, I  knew where we were staying on which day, during our three-week span between Mitchell, SD and Salt Lake City.

I now shake my head in vaguely-disgusted wonder at Peru-Sarahbeth.  I was completely, utterly, shockingly wrong. 

We did not need Peru to fill our adventure tank.  My kids adored the Corn Palace, we had a blast at Wall Drug, and we were all awe-inspired by Mount Rushmore.  Travel notes to come in a separate post.

Yes, I remembered liking these things before.  There was no ill-will about those places.  But I'd been there, done that.  I thought it would be more fun to take my children to a place I'd never been, so we could all soak in the novelty.

Well.  I was completely, utterly, shockingly wrong.  

South Dakota:  My deepest apologies.  You rock.  

Travel Notes: South Dakota (Mitchell and Rapid City)

When we go to a new city, I write down what we saw, where we stayed, what we missed-but-wish-we'd-seen.  That way, I can do quickie-links to friends when they pass through those same cities.  These might be pretty boring if you aren't going there, so feel free to skip.  :)

I suggest a one-night stay.  You can see the highlights in a 24-hour period.  


We stumbled completely by chance on one of the BEST sleeping arrangements we've ever had. We had a tent-site reserved at a KOA about 3 miles from the Corn Palace, but we weren't sure what time we'd get in - plus, we needed to be on the road the next day early.  So, I called and changed the tent reservation to one of their Kamping Kabins. 

No tent required.  Just bring your sleeping stuff (we used sleeping bags and camping pillows). Queen bed and bunk, and then Simone slept on a cot we brought.  All made out of wood. Quaint!

You park outside of the cabin, and there's mini-golf and a playground literally right outside.  The kids played while we packed and unpacked the car.  

Cabins were air conditioned too, which I wasn't expecting.  Yes, it wasn't the Four Seasons - but it was a completely perfect night's sleep for us.  Clean, efficient, and comfortable.  

We paid about $40 for the Kabin for one night. 

KOA Mitchell's website:


Corn Palace:

I've now been there 3 times - and each time, the ridiculousness of it makes it *so* worth the trip. It's fascinating and impressive and goofy all at once.  Free to see all of it.  Extensive gift shop inside and a concession stand for snacks.

Prehistoric Indian Village:

If we weren't due in Yellowstone on Thursday and needing to scramble, we would have made this work.  I was disappointed to miss it.  It's an active archaeological dig.

Dakota Discovery Center:

This was another I was disappointed to miss, but we were only there on July 4th and it was closed.  There's a kids' section that looked like fun, from the website.  Note: It's on a college campus, so don't be confused when you look for the building.  We were.

EN ROUTE TO RAPID CITY (from Mitchell)
Badlands National Park:

You'll go a bit off I90 to get there.  State Highway 44 provides an alternate, scenic access to the park and intersects Highway 377 in the town of Interior. Follow 377 two miles north to the Interior Entrance gate.

Wall Drug:

You will know about this if you're anywhere in a 500 mile radius of the store.  They are known for their copious billboard-marketing.  My favorite, for its endearing silliness and poor grammar: "Wall Drug s-p-e-l-l-e-d FUN."

I thought it was slightly lame as a kid, but bringing my kids today, it was so much fun!  Maybe they've expanded or maybe my kids have lower standards? ;) Not sure.  We had some great buffalo burgers in their cafe, sampled the ice water they're famous for giving out for free, and spent about 2 hours taking ridiculous photos their "prop garden." 

I enjoyed it even more, actually, because I'd pre-read the history on the internet and had a new appreciation for it. 


Mount Rushmore is in Keystone, and you *can* stay there.  But most opt for Rapid City and do the 20-30 minute drive to/from Mt. Rushmore - as that's along the route towards Yellowstone. That's what we did.

Based on reviews and price-value for a suite, we chose Comfort Suites in Rapid City:

We got a partial-divided room with a microwave, fridge, pull-out sofa and King bed for around $140, including tax (AAA rate). The only thing odd is that there's only one TV in the room.  We usually like the divided room because we can let the kids veg out with a movie and still have our space.  But the partial divider allows the light on in our section even after kids are in bed, which I really appreciate. 


Mount Rushmore: 

Need I say more?  It's completely awesome.  My Facebook review:  "I've been to art museums in 26 different countries, and y'know? In my book, Mount Rushmore beats all but the Pieta in Rome. What an amazing artistic and engineering feat. I liked it as a child, but it's even better now." 

Suggestions for Mount Rushmore:

(1) If you have children, stop at the Information Desk and get the Junior Ranger packets.  They have them divided by age, but each packet is a list of questions and things to research/do in the park.  When done, you come back and get "quizzed" by a Ranger, take an oath to protect and honor the park, and then get a badge.  Here are my cherubs in their fine moment of oath-taking.  Andrew was so moved by the oath that he came out and started picking up litter.  I mentioned that to the ranger, and she came out, shook his hand, and thanked him for his service to Mount Rushmore National Park.  Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever seen him so proud and delighted.

(2) The cafe at the park was great, and included locally raised buffalo (a trend around here that I love!).  Prices were reasonable and there were a lot of delicious food options. 

(3) Plan your visit accordingly if you want to stay for the evening show (9:00) and illumination at 9:30. We came a bit too early, and the kids were wiped-out around 7:30.  No way could we have stayed that extra 2 hours.  If we did it again, I'd have them down for a late nap and then keep them up. 

(4) A friend suggested the passports from the gift shop, where you can stamp all the National Parks you see.  I bought one for each of the kids, and will buy the commemorative stickers and get stamps at each National Park we see. Seems like a nice way to track their travels.  

Jack also likes the hat pins, and he's putting them on his backpack.  

I mentioned in another post about the squashed-penny collections, and we saw ample penny-squishing machines at most of our stops.  We bought the penny-books so they have a place to store the ones they get.

There are other places I would see if we had more time in Rapid City:

Reptile Gardens:

1880 Town:
We're going to Dodge City later in the trip, but this is supposed to be better.  


Tomorrow, we're going to Devil's Tower. If you've never watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it's a good thing to watch before you see the Tower.  Freak'n awesome.  We plan to bring picnics and make a hiking day of it. Another fond memory from my childhood travels.