So . . . the big draw near Rapid City is a giant piece of graffiti better known as Mount Rushmore. We have no idea why. Some dude who, at a minimum, had ties to the KKK and published anti-Semitic writings and who, at worst, might have been a supporting member of the KKK basically defaced a beautiful mountain on land claimed to be sacred by Indigenous Americans. Sounds nice, right? Sounds like something everyone should see, right? Sounds like an amazing piece of Americana, right? Well, we went, because we kind of felt like it was stupid to be so close and not see it, but I wish we hadn’t. Why this is a cherished landmark in the U.S. I have no idea. So, we aren’t posting photos of it.
Another big draw near Rapid City is the Crazy Horse memorial. Again, it sure seems like unnecessary (and not even very attractive) graffiti to us and, based on what we have read, the Lakota people have mixed feelings about both the monument and the people who run it at great profit. At $30 per car (more if there are more than two people in the car), plus $4 per person for a covid-filled bus ride to the memorial itself, we took a pass on this one.
So, what should you actually go see near Rapid City? Well, let us tell you. It is Custer State Park. There are three amazing roads to drive in the park. We did Needles Highway first. Beautiful! Stunning scenery. It goes past Sylvan Lake, which has a nice trail around it to get out and stretch your legs. But, please don’t be like the woman who came up to us to complain that the Sylvan Lake Lodge doesn’t have views of Sylvan Lake because the trees around the lake are too tall. Um….ok….
Next up was Iron Mountain Road. Another stunner. And, here is a pro-tip — there are views of Mount Rushmore from this road so save your money and just take your photos here.
Finally, we did the Wildlife Loop. We didn’t see a ton of wildlife, but what we did see was pretty cool. Be sure to bring some carrots for the begging burros. The story is that these small donkeys are descendants of donkeys that were used about a century ago as pack animals to haul tourists up the slopes. When the donkeys were no longer needed, they were released into the park where they have managed to survive amongst the bison, deer, rattlesnakes, and coyotes. For reasons I don’t understand, the park service turns a blind eye to people feeding these adorable critters. They will practically crawl inside your car to get treats. Apparently, their first love is crackers, but we stuck with the more healthy carrots. We’ve even read they will eat licorice. You can also buy special burro food which is made with alfalfa, but the burros will just turn their noses up at that. So, just say no to anyone trying to sell you special burro food.
There are also over 1000 bison in Custer State Park, and I’m pretty sure we saw them all on the Wildlife Loop. We nearly got in a huge bison traffic jam when the bison decided to cross the road, but we escaped just in time. Good thing, too, as it was getting dark and it was a long drive back to Rapid City.
And, we can’t even imagine doing the drive back in the dark. Let me tell you, even at dusk, the drive back to Rapid City was not fun. I stupidly agreed to be the designated driver so Robert could try some locally brewed beer, and it was one of the most stressful drives of my life. We counted something like 60 deer on or right next to the road, several bison right near the road (our little car sure wouldn’t have survived a collision with a bison), and something like 20 cows (yes, open range cows) on or right next to the road. Wowza!