It's raining in Rapid City, South Dakota. We stopped for dinner this evening at Red Lobster on the I-90, where dinner comes in 3 sizes - big, bigger & biggest, much like the eager patrons. Clare ran across the wet carpark to Target (none in Ireland!) to buy some clothes, while I waited in the restaurant lobby with the buzzer that vibrates when your table is ready. About 25 minutes later it went off, and we chose our delicious seafood meals & cocktails, which came in the same gigantic sizes as the meals (my strawberry Lobsterita was exceptional!) We had a friendly table visit from the manager, Kent French, who wanted to talk to the only Australians in town that night and told us he was a world "clapping" champion, video here. Nice guy! I finished up my Lobsterita as the people on the next table were offered another plate of endless shrimp... We drove back across the hills to our lovely hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Keystone (about US $58/nt) and hit the sack.
We'd started the previous day collecting our Hertz Rental Car at Denver Airport. Flicked on the Sat Nav and headed north on the I-25 past Loveland & Fort Collins, Colorado - with huge RV sales yards and shopping malls on the highway. Traffic thinned out as we entered Wyoming. We stopped for food nr. Cheyenne - BIG food & huge trucks in the parking lot with gun racks & "hunter" bumper stickers. This was the real American homeland - wide open spaces and about as far away from Washington DC or Seattle as you can get! It was getting dark as we kept going north, eventually climbing in elevation as we left Wyoming and entered the far southwest corner of South Dakota (our forth state for the day!) We got to Keystone late that night.
When it comes to blurbs about tourist towns, sometimes the local tourist authorities put it best, so here you go: Keystone... The “Home of Mount Rushmore” and truly a “City of Gold”. Rich in gold mining history the quaint town of Keystone is just two miles from Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Once a gold mining boomtown and later the location of the monumental carving of Mount Rushmore, Keystone was also the adult home of Carrie Ingalls of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. With all this to offer who needs more? But there is a lot more. There are historic and Presidential museums where you can learn about the history of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum – Sculptor of Mount Rushmore, United States Presidents, Keystone and Carrie Ingalls. An alpine slide and Tramway with great views of Mount Rushmore and the surrounding area; an actual gold mine that you can tour and then learn to pan for gold; a Historic 1880 Train ride that takes you through some of the most beautiful Black Hills scenery around; beautiful caves that boast some of the largest formations around, and a Historic Walking tour that takes you on a trip back in time!
It was well & truly off season in Keystone and things were really quiet. We waited a while for service in the local diner to get some breakfast. Then straight up to Mount Rushmore (annual parking pass US $8). An attractive family of rocky mountain goats were munching on the plants in the multi-storey carpark (this place was really built for summer crowds). We took lots of photos of course. Mount Rushmore is suitably impressive like all the pictures you see, but we were told the nearby Crazy Horse Monument was better, although it has decades of blasting and chiselling to go before any sign of completion. Anyway, we did the little walking circuit under the Presidents' faces and admired this patriotic salute to all things American. Time to move on.
We headed down from the Black Hills towards Badlands National Park and made stops on the way, firstly to talk to a rancher, Ken Wilson, who had 5,000 head of cattle on 40,000 acres. We'd stopped at the end of his driveway to take some pics of the fall foliage. Like so many other friendly people we came across, I guess they were happy to chat with anyone that stopped, especially Australians! At the next settlement (ghost town!) of Scenic, Clare was given a little history by a first nation guy sitting outside the local store. The glory days of Scenic had long since passed, and this was literally a tumbleweed town where we expected to see Wylie Coyote chasing the roadrunner down the street with some Acme TNT. We gave the guy a few bucks and carried on.
The weather was doing weird things as we drive across the amazingly flat South Dakota landscape towards Badlands. The towns out here along the I-90 started to resemble what you might imagine of the American "outback" - dusty, trailer park homes, quite rundown, etc. We established pretty quickly we definitely wouldn't want to live out here. This is the area where America once kept it's "Minuteman" longrange nuclear missiles, but the vistor centre was closed so we moved on. The open air Prairie Homestead along the road was also closed for the season (it looked abandoned), so we scaled the fences to take a look around. Lots of cute prairie dogs popping their heads out of their burrows. We tore off into Badlands and made a few scenic stops along the way. Thick cloud had moved across now, and any hint of the fabulous colours that this area is famous for were well and truly washed out. But the views were still amazing and it was worth the drive. Rain & darkness were falling as we took the I-90 back into Rapid City, past Ellsworth Air Force Base, more trailer park homes and finally to our table at the Red Lobster... God Bless America!