We traveled to Custer State Park along the Iron Mountain Road. This road is bonkers! There are wooden pigtail bridges, where you curly-cue your way up the mountain, several switchbacks, and a few one lane tunnels, which are carved out of the stone to perfectly frame a distant view of Mount Rushmore.
In Custer State Park, we took the Wildlife Loop Road — a 25mph trip along an 18-mile road through vast grasslands. For miles, the only wildlife we saw was one deer, but finally we found the bison herd. TATANKA! (Kevin Costner narrates the film at the new visitor’s center.) They were grazing in the distance, but we had a good view with the binoculars. Further down the loop, we also saw the infamous burros and a bunch of prairie dogs.
Coming out of the Wildlife Loop, we drove up Needles Highway (thanks for the tip, mom and dad!) to Sylvan Lake. That’s another crazy road! Up close views of towering rocks that seem to pop up out of nowhere, and nice overlooks to see the forest.
George, Tom, Teddy, and Abe — a classic American landmark that was fun to visit with 3,000 of our closest friends. There were a ton of people there, but the viewing areas are large so it’s easy to have a great view of the monument.
We walked up 422 stairs on the .6-mile Presidential Trail to get a closer look at the monument. This trail also brought us to the Sculptor’s Studio, where we learned a bit more about the engineering side of the project.
This is what the presidents look at…
View of the monument from the Black Hills National Forest…
We went back at night for the Evening Lighting Ceremony. They invited all active duty military and veterans to join the ranger on stage for the flag ceremony. The ranger went around to every single person so they could say their names and military branch. The crowd cheered, the National Anthem played, and the memorial lit up. It was a very patriotic moment.
Badlands National Park is amazing! And our visit began with a helicopter ride! It was really neat to see the rock formations from above. We spent all day in the park, stopping at scenic lookouts and walking on the trails. In the evening we spotted bighorn sheep and prairie dogs. We even went back later that night for an astronomy program. Telescopes were set up to view the moon and a few planets — we saw Jupiter and its four moons!