Traveling from the West to the East coast you have several routes you can take. Mine was a very circuitous route but it did give me to option to check out the Black Hills of South Dakota. Apart from the Badlands, I wasn’t sure what there was to see in South Dakota. After a quick peruse of the map, I had my weekend planned.
I would start off in Deadwood and then head over to Mount Rushmore. Rapid City is the nearest large town in that area and is a great place to use as your home base. I chose to spend a day near each attraction in order to take advantage of the area and I was able to find some great deals either through Hotels.com or Airbnb. It made staying in these smaller towns accessible.
I drove into the Black Hills from Eastern Wyoming and you knew right away when you entered into South Dakota. It was as if the land was invigorated with large luscious pines and deep valleys, which was a stark departure from Eastern Wyoming which was quite flat and lacking in a lot of vegetation, with almost a desert but not quite.
I got to Deadwood around 3 pm. My first stop was the Tourist Information center, located in the middle of town. You honestly couldn’t miss it if you tried. It sits in what once was the train depot. All of Deadwood is a museum of the old west. It’s amazing to see and for such a small town there’s quite a bit to do.
My suggestion is to start at the Adams Museum. It is free to visit but suggests a donation of $5. The first thing you’ll see when you enter is the gift shop off to your left but progress right by that and you’re greeted with a museum in the round. The museum does not put you on a pre-determined path. There’s no real progression, however, each area is set up in themes and you are given a good overview of the history of this small and infamous town.
Many make this a stop on their pilgrimage of the Old West. It’s the resting place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane among many others, and you can visit their graves at the Mount Moriah Cemetery which overlooks the town. The town itself is extremely walkable. There is a free walking tour you can take at your leisure, winding you around the “downtown” area, past casinos, hotels, and bars.
In the summer, there are daily re-enactments of gun fights and trials that you are able to participate in. The town of Deadwood started out as a mining town and in the summer months you can take a tour of a gold mine, head west out-of-town and you will be able to hunt for gold like our ancestors did.
You have quite a few choices for restaurants in Deadwood. Don’t expect anything fantastic. For dinner, I went to Harry’s Spaghetti Western. It’s a very simple menu of your choice of pasta, sauce and if you want meat. Dinner comes with a salad and ice cream for dessert. Great for families on a budget but not great for a foodie. The portions are large and the bread is tasty. It also was located next door to my hotel, which made it very convenient.
I spent the night in the Deadwood Dick’s Hotel. As I mentioned earlier I wanted to stay in town so that I could see as much as I could. How does one describe Deadwood Dick’s? Well, there isn’t a lobby to speak of. The place actually looked closed when I approached. I walked into the antique store that was on the ground level. The couple sitting there welcomed me warmly and asked if I needed help. I asked them where the hotel was and fortunately for me, check-in for the hotel was the counter for the antique store.
The owner checked me in and walked me up to my room. On the way, he gave me an overview of the hotel. My room was located on the top floor. The room itself was cute with a four-poster bed and a small bathroom but it had everything you could need and the price was great! I paid $40 to stay the night. The best feature of the hotel is the elevator. It is original to the hotel and one of only two still in working order, the other resides in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. I loved operating that antique double gated elevator, it made me feel like I was transported back in time. The hotel also boasts gaming and a tex-mex restaurant which are in the attached building.
I woke up early the next day, eager to start my exploration. Upon the suggestion of the hotel owner, I went to the Lee Street Station Cafe for breakfast. The outside looks like an old gas station and inside you’re going to get a no-frills, straight forward and good breakfast. You won’t find croissants or eggs Benedict but you will find your basic breakfast as well as make your own bloody marys if you want to start your drinking early.
I started off my morning by taking the self-guided walking tour and then I drove my car up to the Mount Moriah Cemetery. During the summer months, it costs $2 per person to visit the cemetery, any other time it’s free. The cemetery is set up in a grid system and each path has its own “street” name. The cemetery is set on a hill so make sure to wear good shoes.
Just before lunch, I decided to make my way toward Mount Rushmore. It’s about an hour drive and on the way, I highly suggest you taking the time to stop at Pactola Dam located on Highway 385. It’s a beautiful spot to pull over and take a dip on a hot day or just have a picnic. The water is clear and the scenery is beautiful. Definitely worth the stop. After a quick lunch, I was back on my way.
Approaching Mount Rushmore via the Mount Rushmore Parkway, there are several spots along the winding, upward climb, where you can pull over and get some great shots of the Monument. When I first saw Mount Rushmore, I have to admit, I was a bit overcome. It never fails to amaze me how much a work of art can affect you, seeing it in person versus in a book. You really have no understanding of the scale until it’s in your face.
For those of you who don’t know what Mount Rushmore is, it is a monument of four of our great presidents, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Each was selected because of how they shaped our great nation.
The monument itself is free to visit, however, it does cost $18 to park, unless you’re a senior or an active military. The one good thing is the parking fee covers the whole year. So, if you choose to visit again within the same year your parking is included. I’ve wanted to see Mount Rushmore since I can remember so paying the fee was not something I was going to quibble over.
Entering the monument, you are ushered through a long line of state flags, leading you to the first view-point, and the main amphitheater. Along the route is a large gift shop and a couple of dining options. Despite the crowds, your view is never interrupted.
If you think that it’s just the Monument that you’re going to see, think again. Below the first viewing point is the museum, with great videos on the construction and maintenance of the monument. There is an artist’s forge, set aside to give demonstrations on different processes used by the original artist of the monument, Gutzon Borglum, and a well paved and constructed walking path, providing you with closer views and different vantage points. On this walk take a moment to look out at the Black Hills, the views are breathtaking and hold up against the might of Rushmore.
After walking around the complex for a while I began to get hungry and tired. That night I was staying in Keystone, a little town nestled at the foot of Mount Rushmore Parkway. I chose to stay at the Roosevelt Inn. The Inn was great, rooms are clean and spacious and you are greeted by a teddy bear on your bed, which you can purchase. A modest continental breakfast is included in the price which was around $40. They do have a pool but it was under construction when I was there.
The town itself is definitely a seasonal town. When I was there it was just before the summer season and many of the businesses were still closed. I ate dinner at the Ruby House Restaurant and had one of the best burgers. It was well seasoned and cooked to perfection. The restaurant was at one time an old saloon and dance hall and you can still see vestiges of its past. It was a great experience.
Being from the East Coast, there are places that are just hidden to us and South Dakota was one of them. Anyone making a journey west should make this area one of your stops. Until next time.