Rapid City, South Dakota May 2019

For Memorial Day, the Mizenko family is going to South Dakota. I’m so pumped to see those heads!

At 8AM Saturday morning, mom and dad picked Rachel and me up in Golden. We continued on to get Nick and started our journey North.

Before we left Denver, we stopped at Lucile’s for a late mother’s day brunch. Holy moly this place was amazing. The decor was really unique. There was a clear Louisiana theme with beads, masks, and comfort. Nothing matches, but everything looks good. We ordered food comprising of fish, grits, and hollandaise sauce. Each meal started with a biscuit the size of our head. All the food was delicious and I’ll definitely be back.

Back in the car, we never once turned on the radio; instead discussing politics, which food best represented each state, the poop habits of my co-worker, and how to reroute the return trip to get an extra state checked off for the kids.

Our first stop, 6 hours in, was at Jewel Cave National Monument. We joined a group of 30 people and rode an elevator down 28 stories to start the tour. We immediately saw where its name came from.

The walls were covered in a variety of calcite crystals. Pretty much every surface in the cave is completely covered in spar.

And the cave goes on and on. We were on a simple walking tour that followed paved paths and staircases, but there are over 200 miles of recorded passageways which only accounts for about 5% of the entire cave.

Here are some other things we saw:

Draperies and Flowstone

Stalagmites and stalactites

Manganese

And even bacon.

The 1.5 hour tour 380 feet below ground was totally worth the trip. Just know, not all crystals are shiny.

Before leaving the monument, we asked for some suggestions. Which is how we wound up in Custer State Park. We spent a solid two hours driving Wildlife Loop Road and Iron Mountain Road on our way to Rapid City.

Wildlife loop road led us through some fantastic scenery and a ton of burned forests (is that why they’re called the Black Mountains?). Ultimately, we were watching for bison, pronghorns, and deer.

Quickly, we spotted our first bison.

Followed shortly after by a family of turkeys.

And finally, we found herds of bison with many right on the road.

We drove past pronghorns and white-tailed deer and miles more of rolling hills.

Once we got to Iron Mountain Road, the scenery changed to bulbous rock formations and windy mountain roads.

We passed through three one-way rock tunnels that all strategically showed off Mount Rushmore.

And to wrap up the really picturesque drive were three pigtail bridges. Basically you drive 360° over your own road. I can’t explain it, so watch the video here.

Finally in Rapid City, we ate dinner at Botticelli. Everyone was quite hungry and the slightly too loud, very annoying Italian music made the wait last forever. Fortunately the wait was worth it for most of us as we enjoyed tasty bread dipped in vinegar and oil, Caesar salad with the option of actual anchovies, and fancy main courses. Rachel was the only one who didn’t love her meal, so I give it a thumbs up.

The next morning, we met the grandparents at church for Sunday mass. I’m not a regular chuchgoer, but this was a pretty unique Catholic service. It was mixed with Native American traditions. We did a four corners prayer where they wafted smoke on us with a raven claw/raven feather stick thing. Many of the songs were in another language. And there was an incredible wooden flute player. Really interesting.

Our next stop was at Mount Rushmore. Everyone told me the heads were smaller than they expected. Everyone was right.

Turns out, the heads are each 60 feet tall and primarily carved with Dynamite. Smaller than expected, yes. Impressive, yes.

We did a little walk to get a bit closer then stopped in the museum. We looked through pictures and watched a short video describing how they carved the heads, why they picked these four presidents, and how long everything took. Here’s the most interesting fact I learned.

Since 1980 when we started monitoring the heads, no damage has been reported.

Rushmore is worth the stop, but definitely not a place to spend much time.

Despite big storm clouds and a not so good weather forecast, we drove up Needles Highway to hike Little Devil’s Tower. The drive was fantastic, but when we got out of the car, thunder clapped and raindrops started to fall, so we gave up and drove back to a little cabin for a snack.

The cabin was right next to Sylvan Lake which we had seen on our drive up.

Wow, was is more impressive on the drive down. We decided to don our warmest gear in the car and walk around the lake.

The rocks in and around the lake were incredible. We got a bit muddy, walked across wobbly logs and stones, scrambled through snowy tunnels, and couldn’t stop ooing and ahhing. DEFINITELY check it out.

After our walk, we drove back to Rapid City for dinner. We all stopped at Que Pasa for a drink. Yummy and quick service.

Then it was off to Texas Roadhouse for dinner. Through the toasts and catching up, we found time to choke down some mediocre food. The bread was tasty and who doesn’t love throwing peanut shells on the floor, but that’s where the good ends. Always choose local!

Back at the hotel, we ended the night with a few rounds of Hanabi and Kill Dr. Lucky.

We woke up and headed straight to the church for pictures and the wedding. After the small ceremony, we spent some time at the reception and then got in the car for the long drive back. We rerouted to hit Nebraska on the drive home. State 43 for me!

The state was mostly grasslands and cows, but we did pass by some really stunning rock features. Rain followed us most of the drive and lightning was a nice distraction from the hours of road trip.

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