The next landmark of our RV road trip was the last stop in Wyoming before we crossed the border into South Dakota through gorgeous Spearfish Canyon, to iconic Mount Rushmore, and charming Keystone.
We left Gillette early-morning and for a moment I wondered about a nearby town called Sleepy Hollow. If it had any connection to the scary headless rider stories it might warrant a detour, but turns out it doesn’t so we pushed on to this natural wonder.
Devils Tower National Monument
Although it was a little detour, it’s worth the trip to see the first national monument of the U.S, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt and the site featured in the Steven Spielberg movie, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
It’s one of those landmarks that you can drive by and think: whatever, it’s nice, but it’s just a gigantic termite mound. You can keep driving and wonder what all the fuss is about and why presidents bothered with it at all, but as with many things in life, you have to look closer!
Devils Tower near Sundance on H24 is a strange thing with strange geological features. I can see why it’s something worth protecting so that we can admire and enjoy it for generations to come. It certainly isn’t just another rock or mountain or hill, so what is it?
What Is Devils Tower?
Devils Tower is a large rock obelisk also known as Bear Mountain Butte. Natives call it Bear Lodge and many don’t agree with the name ‘Devils tower’, which seems to have been mistranslated from the Lakota language by early explorers. Or maybe they meant to call it that? The true reason is lost.
Its exact origin is still unknown today, but the funny thing is the symmetrical folds and cracks visible on the outside of the rock that no-one can explain. It’s not hollow and is described as ‘a bunch of pencils held up by gravity’!
I like things that hold a bit of mystery, that make super intelligent people scratch their heads and say: You know what, we’re not 100% sure what happened here. But not in a scary way like Yellowstone; the supervolcano that scientists are still trying to understand. That one I’d prefer figured out quite soon, please?
You can go to the Devils Tower Visitor Center and pay to enter the area where you’ll find a walking trail around the tower. You can even climb to the top if you’re up for it, skilled at rock climbing and have 4-6 hours at your disposal. It’s quite the rock climbers destination!
Travelling out of season, it was easy to find parking at the historical marker and we drove as close to the Butte as we could. Less than half an hour in the area we were ready to hit the road again to enter the Black Hills of South Dakota!
Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota
It’s obvious, just by driving through, that Spearfish itself is a top spot for outdoorsy people who love to get closer to nature.
We parked in a pull-out at the start of Spearfish Canyon road to have lunch in the RV. It’s so convenient to have a fully stocked kitchen on the road. When you’re done clearing away, you hop in your seat, and the journey continues. Yes, you do have to clear away and make sure everything is secured in cupboards before you start the motorhome or else stuff will fly at your head at the first turn.
We highly recommend the canyon road in the Black Hills, famous for its vivid autumn colours, to pass by and through small towns typical of South Dakota and past the Pactola Dam for a scenic detour to Mount Rushmore and Keystone.
It’s slow going with back to back twists and turns, but we enjoyed every minute of the ride. Even in early autumn the changing colours of birch, aspen and oak trees on the banks of Spearfish Creek were brilliant, but it must be breathtaking once the full transformation is completed later in the season.
Sacrifices To Avoid The Storm
We were still trying to outrun the forecasted storms and dreaded snow that seemed to follow us from Yellowstone so we decided to forego our original plans for the northern U.S. in favour of getting further south to warmer weather as soon as possible. Literally racing along to cover the most important landmarks in this part of the country, sadly meant that we lost the explore-time we planned for Spearfish, Rapid City and Custer State Park, where the annual buffalo round-up just ended.
The Custer Buffalo Round-Up is another unticked bucket list dream and the latest addition to my ‘Next Time’ list. We missed The Crazy Horse Memorial, still under construction, which will be the largest mountain sculpture in the world. Considered the eighth wonder of the world in progress, we hope to see the completed memorial one day plus it gives us a good reason to come back here because Custer County has a fascinating history to uncover. In person. I shall not Google it!
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
What a sight! The first glimpse from the road of this mindblowing sculpture in the granite face of the Black Hills is awesome. I can’t believe we’re here! We made it this far north to this absolute iconic landmark featured in every other movie. Wow-wow-wow! Pinch me or hit me or something. Are we really doing this? Yeeeeees! We are. And we are here people.
Why was this place such a highlight for me? I guess its image must’ve been so closely bonded with years of dreaming to visit America that to finally stand in front of the presidents caused an overwhelming sense of achievement and uncontained excitement. We were really stoked to be there.
Again, it was quiet. No queues to idle in or crowd to waddle along with; big off-season perk for us. Rv’s enter through a separate gate together with buses and park in a section designated to oversized vehicles. When it got busy at one of these mainstream attractions, puny cars always nick the special RV spots, and that got us worked up real quick.
On behalf of all RV’ers:
All tourists please read the signs and leave the few parking spaces made available for oversized vehicles to RV’s and buses?
Thank you for your co-operation in advance.
We took our time to admire a human feat of art and engineering, read every piece of info on display, snapped a thousand photos and learned all about the history of Mount Rushmore in the museum. The skill, the vision, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into sculpting four 60 foot (18m) heads into the side of a mountain is unbelievable and we’re so blessed to say that we learned about it there alongside our children.
What? A Chipmunk? Really?
My pride didn’t last long. I just asked our 10-year-old what he remembers about Mount Rushmore and he said four faces and a chipmunk.🤣 He remembered two of the president’s names at least! Oh well, at least he knows he was there, right? I must admit, six months down the line I’d have to Google the facts myself, but it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t diminish the experience either.
Between 4 October 1927, and 31 October 1941, Gutzon Borglum with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum, and 400 workers sculpted the colossal memorial. Gutzon Borglum died in 1941 of a heart attack in Chicago.
Who are the four presidents of Mount Rushmore?
- Presidents George Washington (1732–1799),
- Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)
- Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)
- Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)
Keystone – The Gateway To Mount Rushmore
From Mount Rushmore, we had problem 66 to solve once more: where to spend the night and it would be dark soon. Keystone, known as the gateway to Mount Rushmore, would hopefully give up a cozy boondock spot. Many of the campgrounds and attractions in the Black Hills area were closed for the season.
Couldn’t find anywhere to boondock so we pulled in at the Travelodge in Keystone and paid for a site by a little creek where, despite the freezing cold, the kids tried out their new mini travel-size fishing rods. The central location of the campsite made it possible for us to walk into town, have a laugh posing in the funny bum chairs and order delicious pizza at Eno’s Pizza for dinner.
Keystone is a super destination, not only filled with character and history but jampacked with fun things to do after a visit to Mount Rushmore. I definitely wouldn’t skip Keystone if you’re in the area. The town was peaceful and quiet while we there and we loved it. I don’t mention all there is to Keystone because, for the most part, we share what we experience, but there are loads of entertainment and shopping for everyone’s liking.
Dahl’s Chainsaw Art, Keystone
It belongs to a very talented guy called Jordan Dahl and you can visit his website by clicking here. You can watch him and his team in action with roaring chainsaws in their workshops while the kids play on some of the wood sculptures for a small donation. All sculptures are for sale and you can place your order and have it shipped to your home if you don’t fancy anything already made.
His work and the scale of it is remarkable; perhaps maybe on a small level even in line with or a compliment to the nearby giant granite mountain sculpture of heads two million visitors come to see annually.
Some of Dahl’s sculptures achieved fame.
- Overnight: Travelodge RV Park, Keystone. $31
- Distance Traveled: 200 miles (322 km)
And that’s a wrap for this part of our RV Road Trip around the US.