This is my fourth post about our family's visit to the Dakotas. I recommend reading the first, second, and third trip posts before this one. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the places we visited during our travels. Other places we went are free for everyone. We paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. If you see any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love that particular attraction, restaurant, or hotel enough to recommend it, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.
Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, and More
We started Friday, July 28 with a short drive to Crazy Horse Memorial. One word: Wow.
I don't mean, "Wow, that's an impressively large and beautiful mountain carving!" It is, but my wow is more for the whole campus than just the carving itself. Crazy Horse Memorial is way, way more than the sculpture. The campus includes four museums, a restaurant that overlooks the carving, a theater, and even a university! There are cultural programs to watch and beautiful artwork to see. Crazy Horse Memorial is impressive, to say the least. Arrive right at opening (8:00 am in the summer) to beat the crowds and to see everything.
The museums are incredible. The Indian Museum of North America highlights the histories and cultures of the many tribes of American Indians. The Native American Educational and Cultural Center features cultural programs, artwork, and hands-on activities.
The Mountain Carving Gallery tells the story of Crazy Horse, the Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear (who dreamed of a memorial to the American Indian people), and Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor who made the dream a reality. The Sculptor's Studio is the original log home built by the Ziolkowski family.
There's an extensive gift shop, but if you prefer free souvenirs, you can help yourself to rock carved from the mountain.
Definitely plan to eat at Laughing Water Restaurant. And when you do, order the local food. We shared the amazing tatanka stew, fry bread with wojape, and South Dakota's state dessert, kuchen. It was fantastic!
You can take a bus ride out to the base of the mountain, but we opted not to do that in order to spend more time at the museums.
Crazy Horse Memorial is amazing and you should definitely go.
You are probably assuming that we went to Mount Rushmore next. This would be a logical guess because the two memorials are 17 miles apart, with little in between them. But I'd done a ton of research and learned that the Mt. Rushmore crowds would be lightest if we waited until after 3:30 pm to visit. So from Crazy Horse, we passed Mt. Rushmore and drove three extra miles to the town of Keystone.
We started our time in Keystone at the National Presidential Wax Museum. This may surprise you if you read this blog post from June. I'm happy to report that I have officially changed my mind! I thoroughly enjoyed my first-ever visit to a wax museum.
We began our self-guided tour with a short video about how the wax sculptures are made. Then we entered the galleries. Each featured one (or more) presidents in an important scene from their lives. By keying in the number in the display, you can hear an audio narration on your device.
It was really nice going at our own pace and being in control of our own audio tours.
I'd expected the presidents to be arranged chronologically, but they weren't. This display about the Unelected Presidents was one of my favorites. The four on the left were vice presidents when the president died in office. Gerald Ford, on the right, was appointed vice president following Spiro Agnew's resignation, then rose to president following Richard Nixon's resignation.
We would learn a LOT more about this man in the upcoming days.
I actually remember this.
I learned a lot from our visit to the National Presidential Wax Museum and I'm really glad we went. All three of us agreed that it was a really neat museum.
Next door to the wax museum is Holy Terror Mini Golf. We LOVED it.
I've done a lot of mini golf in my day, but this course was unlike any that I've ever seen. The differences are apparent right from the beginning. At the first hole, you spin the wheel to get extra instructions for playing that hole.
Trevor had to use the wrong end of his club to hit the ball!
The spinner was for the first hole (and then again for the 18th). The rest of the course had other challenges that weren't obvious at first.
The course is built right into the hillside. We (incorrectly) assumed that each hole would be on a flat surface, terraced on the hill.
Nope! Some of the holes require you to hit up a steep hill! In this photo, Trevor is standing near the hole to show Steve where to aim.
The view from the top of the course.
This hole sent the ball down a flume!
There were so many unique holes. We all loved it! Don't miss Holy Terror for the most challenging and fun mini golf ever!
Even though the course was almost entirely shaded, it was still a warm day. That gave us the perfect excuse to head next door to Grapes & Grinds. It's a coffee and wine bar, but much more exciting is their homemade gelato! The key lime gelato I had was literally the best gelato I've ever had. Trevor had lemon basil and Steve had strawberry. Both were delicious, but mine was my favorite.
We got to Mount Rushmore around 4:30 pm and the crowds were minimal. Spending time in Keystone before visiting the memorial was a great decision.
The Army National Guard was holding a course completion ceremony for Officer Candidate School, which is where most of the visitors were headed.
We started at the Visitor Center, where we learned about the reasons behind the memorial and the methods they used to make it. There is a lot of information about sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
My favorite part of our visit to Mount Rushmore was the Presidential Trail.
The trail is only 0.6 mile long. The first 0.2 miles is fully accessible. The remaining 0.4 miles has 422 stairs, which doesn't seem like a lot during the downhill portion. But even the uphill portion is worth it, as the scenery and views of the mountain are gorgeous.
Remember how I said how much the Black Hills remind me of the Sierras? This picture could totally have been taken in California.
The end of the trail passes by the Sculptor's Studio, where we learned even more about the making of the memorial.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial exceeded my expectations and I'm glad we went.
That said, if I had to pick between Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, I'd pick Crazy Horse for sure.
We had a short drive to Rapid City, where we checked into the excellent Rushmore Hotel. See the statue in the foreground? That's Andrew Jackson.
JFK (and son John-John) are directly in front of the hotel. More on this later.
First, dinner. We ate at PRESS START, directly across from the Rushmore.
PRESS START serves a variety of food, but we were there for the coal-fired pizza. It was soooo good!
The dining room is on the ground level, along with a bunch of modern video games. Above the pizza oven, there's a huge screen showing classics I remember from my childhood in the early 80's. Like Donkey Kong!
All the classics are downstairs in Bowser's Retro Dungeon. Everything about PRESS START was super fun.
We spent the next hour strolling through downtown Rapid City. The City of Presidents has statues of the first 43 (of 45) presidents on display. Usually, anyway. Johnson and Nixon are in storage during construction.
There's a really fun scavenger hunt you can do while you're there. We visited about half of the statues before heading back to the Rushmore for the night.
We finished the scavenger hunt in the morning. I'll tell you about that tomorrow, along with everything else we did that day. It was a BIG day for us!