Day 4 - Presidents, Harleys, Dead Cowboys & B1's

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 15, 2011

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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Monday, July 25, 2011

Well, I'm at the back end of another 14 hour day, but it was worth it. We managed to get out again at 7am, after a disappointing breakfast. La Quinta is definitely not as good as the Holiday Inn’s; no hot breakfasts, lumpy beds and horrible towels.

We decided to make the most of the early start and head straight up to Mount Rushmore before the roads got too busy. After a quick Walmart visit we were soon in the Black Hills; a hotch potch of National Forest and valleys. We had our first sighting of the President’s Faces at Mount Rushmore from the road, and stopped to take the obligatory photos. The kids were quite disappointed with it; they had expected something "bigger". We drove up to the visitor centre, faked entry with a national park pass, which was declined (Lyns idea) so they had to let us in to turn around and exit. So we just took photos from the car park.

We headed South to Custer State Park, about 10 miles away, through the narrowest, convoluted , twistiest road we’ve ever travelled. The hills and tight turns meant that sometimes the carriageways took different directions so we had our own one way path through the hillside. We had seen pictures of the “pig tails” in some of the free tourist magazines we’d picked up, but were totally unprepared for them when we had to drive around in a very narrow circle built of wood which crossed over the road we had just driven up. They were no bigger than a small roundabout in size, and it was the only way to climb the hill. One of these pig tails went straight into a tunnel, amazing. When we got the other side of the tunnel Lyn stopped the car as you could see Mount Rushmore perfectly framed, (we later read it was designed this way). Lyn stopped to take some photos, but had to move out of the way for a group of Harleys to come riding through. The sound was amazing as they revved their engines and waved as they passed.

It was an incredible journey, that continued for another 20 miles or so. The smell of pine was incredible, and a complete contrast to the plains and prairies. Custer State Park is somewhere we’d like to go back to; I wonder if we ever will? It’s one of the last truly wild places left in the US, with 1300 bison roaming freely.

We passed through the town of Custer, named after (you guessed it!) Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The cavalry officer first brought a large expeditionary force into the area to scout the unknown wilderness in 1874, in the middle of Indian Country. News of gold discoveries spread nationwide causing the last big gold rush in the US. Custer is lovely, with granite outcroppings surrounded by ponderosa forest.

From Custer we passed the Crazy Horse memorial. This will be the world’s largest mountain carving, at 641 feet long, and honours the Indian people.

We made a quick detour into the town of Hill City, where we had amazing ice creams and triple malt shakes. Lyn asked for his strong, it was his first ice cream for nearly 4 months.

Tegz and I called into a Christmas Shop, to get our yearly Christmas Tree Road Trip ornament. What a shop….over 10,000 Christmas things, along with Christmas music. I bought our personalized one, and couldn’t resist a yellow school bus ornament for our tree, as I seem to have ended up collecting Americana for it. We also got a bassoon ornament for Tegz. I mean, seriously, what other shop could you find a bassoon to hang on a Christmas tree? The woman who served us didn’t even know what a bassoon was!

We then drove into the mining town of Lead for another Subway lunch. The whole town is centred around an old opencast mine opened in the 1800’s. It’s like a dry warm version of the Rhondda valleys.

From there we visited the nearby town of Deadwood, home to Calamity Jane. I’d really been looking forward to this, and Lyn drove me up to the old cowboy cemetery of Mt Moriah, high above the town. It’s not an Evans holiday without a visit to a cemetery! Lyn and the boys stayed in the car, whilst Tegz and I braved the 95 degree heat and paid a dollar each to enter the cemetery. We dragged ourselves up the entrance hill, and were soon by the graves of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. Tegz was fascinated by the story of Calamity Jane; a lady bullwhacker whose language was so strong that brave men feared it more than her gun! She came to Deadwood at the age of 19, frequenting the saloons and gambling joints. She even dressed as a soldier and joined an expedition into the Black Hills, and was only discovered when she went for a swim in the river! She was demoted from her rank, and made a bull whacker.

As well as being known for her wild behaviour, (she was a howling drunk and a prostitute) she was also known for her kind ways, often using her gun to get money for down and outs, and nursed men through a small pox out break. Her dying wish was to be buried next to Wild Bill, and this is what happened. It is said 10000 people attended her funeral, but there was not one mourner!

Another grave nearby that caught my eye is that of Potato Creek Johnny. He was one of the Wild West’s most peaceful and respected men; a Welshman who stood at 4 foot 3 inches tall, and looked like a little gnome with long white hair and glasses. He found what is believed to be the largest gold nugget prospected in the Black Hills, at 7.75 ounces. He became a much loved local and national figure and died at the age of 77. What a character!

On returning to the car, Lyn announced that the Expedition was a 5.4L V8, he was landed, it the biggest car he has driven. He must have been bored and popped the lid, sorry bonnet …

We had a little look around Deadwood, and it’s bars and saloons, but we need to come back and stay longer!

After my brush with cowboys, it was Lyn’s turn to visit Sturgis…..somewhere he’s always wanted to visit; home to the Sturgis rally, where over 750,000 bikers visit for a week every August. In fact, our timing was great, as the rally is being held next week, so we could see the town preparing for the massive influx. Just about every shop is leather/biking based, so Lyn was in his element. Tegz and I bought new black leather belts, so I was proud to be carrying  around a  “Hot Leathers” carrier bag…shame it had boring belts in there! We also drove out past the famous “Full Throttle Saloon” which is famous for some heavy rally partying. One day Lyn…..maybe! We also went past the huge Buffalo Chip campground, which will look very different next week!

Our almost final stop was at the Ellsworth Airforce Base, where Lyn and the boys got out to visit the Air and Space Museum, whilst Tegz and I relaxed reading our books in the car. They spent over an hour inside the museum looking over lots of Minuteman artefacts, jet engines and the history of Ellsworth AFB, which has been in operation since 1945, and a lynch pin of the US nuclear deterrent. It’s from here that all the Minutemen facilities were manned. Eventually Lyn came out of the museum, and went out to explore some of the aircraft on show. He had been going on for months about seeing his beloved B52 (another one of his favourite aircraft). There was a stroke of luck that a B1B-Lancer took off from the air force base and climbed in a slow circle above us. The roar was earth shattering and Lyn said he was full of goosebumps. It’s ironic that Lyn’s other favourite aircraft, the B1B is at the museum also, so he was able to stand underneath the engines and hear the aircraft that had just taken off fly into the distance. He came back to the car very happy. I think the kids were stunned.

After dinner in the Olive Garden, we did a bit of shopping in two out door shops, which were fantastic. They sold everything, especially hunting gear, camo clothes, guns, knives etc. In fact, one of them had a sign at the entrance requesting customers “check their guns in at the door” before shopping. You don’t get that in Next! We bought a load of stuff (not guns or knives!) and drove back to the hotel, knackered again, to empty the car and get everything ready for our journey into Montana tomorrow.
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mcfarlne on

Morning travellers x. Sorry no response yesterday, had a bit of a disaster yesterday with a live release that had to be pulled 2 hours later :0(. Anyway.....I always feel educated after reading your blogs, don't expect the same from me cos it ain't gonna happen lol. There will be plenty of lazing and nothing else lol.

Sounds like everyone getting their dreams come true in one way or another on this trip :0). Take care xxx

Claire Bartle on

Mount Rushmore looks fab!

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