The Wild West: Everything’s Bigger Out Here!

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I’m getting excited about summer holidays, are you?

We are doing something completely different this year.  We are flying into Denver in Colorado and then renting an RV and going RV camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Mr. N is stressed because we will have limited access to both mobile phone service and WiFi during the week.  I’m a little worried about all the outdoorsy activity planned.  Truth be told, I’m a visit-museums-and-eat-nice-lunches kind of girl.  The kids have been begging though for an RV adventure holiday and the American West seems an ideal place for it.

Apparently, you don’t need a special license to drive an RV and they are supposed to be easy to drive.  At least no one will ask me to parallel park it!

image credit: Black Hills Camper Rentals

We will be staying at an RV camp near Custer in South Dakota which is really well situated for the nearby state parks.  Custer calls itself a city but in the 2010 census, its population was a little over 2000 people.  So, we are talking a fairly small city.  Here are some of the things we are hoping to do.

Custer State Park is actually the second largest state park in the United States.  It’s got lots of wildlife and great hiking.

custer state park
Bemused (but probably not amused) Bison
Image credit: Custer State Park

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is world-renowned for the faces of the 4 presidents carved into the granite. These presidents are memorialised for shaping the course of the United States.  There’s George Washington (general during the American Revolution and the first president), Thomas Jefferson (president during the Louisiana Purchase from France which doubled the size of the original British Colonies and started the US in believing that its ‘manifest destiny’ was to control the land from sea to sea), and Abraham Lincoln (president who preserved the Union during the Civil War). It’s somewhat unclear why Theodore Roosevelt was included among these presidents – he was  a great president but was he legendary?  It might have helped that the sculptor John Gotsum Borglum considered Roosevelt a patron.

Mount Rushmore
Image credit: Mount Rushmore

In a country where bigger is better, near Mount Rushmore there is also the (still-being-constructed) Crazy Horse Memorial which will be largest mountain sculpture in the world.  To get an idea of its size, the face and hair of Crazy Horse will be the size of Mount Rushmore.  Crazy Horse was a legendary 19th century Native American warrior and hero from the local Sioux tribe who led his people into battle against the encroaching American settlers onto their lands.

Crazy Horse memorial
Image credit: Galen Fry Singer

Wind Cave National Park is the fourth longest cave in the world and famous for its needle-shaped rock formations.  You can do cave tours as well as 30 miles of hiking trails outside.

Wind Cave National Park
Image credit: Wind Cave National Park

Badlands National Park is beautiful in its desolation.  It was named Badlands by the Native American Sioux tribe because of its difficult terrain.  Once again, the Badlands have great hiking trails. (On a side note, do you notice all these references to hiking?!).

Badlands National Park
Image credit: Badlands National Park

Just because I’m not sure our marriage will survive Mr. N having kittens about not having access to the office from his beloved smartphone, we will hand in the RV at Rapid City in South Dakota after a week.  For the next 10 days, we are taking a road trip through Wyoming staying at some cute little towns and hotels along the way.

The big highlight of Wyoming for me will be Yellowstone National Park.  The park spans over 2.2 million acres of wilderness or about 3.5 thousand square miles.  It’s known for its geothermal activity.  In fact, half of the world’s total geothermal activity is located in Yellowstone. Yellowstone Caldera is one of the 6 known infamous super volcanoes.  One of the most visited sites is Old Faithful Geyser which erupts every 1/2 hour to 2 hours.  And, yes, we are back to hiking and watching wildlife.

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear
Image credit:

We’ll be staying in Cody in Wyoming for a few days which consider itself the preferred gateway to Yellowstone.  Cody is famous in itself also because it was founded by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1896 who was an American pioneer and showman.  Some historians think that Buffalo Bill would have been the most-recognised name in the world for people who lived in the early 20th century.

Buffalo Bill founded the Buffalo Bill Wild West circus-like attraction which toured the world, including Europe where the show was performed for Queen Victoria during her jubilee year.  The show defined the world’s impression of the American West and contributed to its iconic imagery of cowboys, outlaws, frontier life and Native Americans.  The kind of place where the men are men and the women are men.

cowboy with lasso

There’s plenty to do in Cody itself as well.  I’m sure we will visit a rodeo in this town which is known for its showmanship past.  There’s also rafting trips on the Wyoming River and Buffalo Bill Centre for the west.

cody stampede rodeo
image credit: Cody Stampede Rodeo

Buffalo Bill set up a hotel named after his daughter, Irma, in Cody.  Unfortunately, they don’t allow children to stay there.  Instead we are staying at the Chamberlin Inn which is a historic boutique hotel in Cody.  Opened in 1900 the Chamberlin Inn was started as a boarding house by Agnes Chamberlin who worked for Buffalo Bill Cody’s newspaper enterprise.  In the early 20th century, the Chamberlin Inn had many famous visitors including Ernest Hemingway who stayed in 1932.  There was a period of decay from the 1940’s onwards but then the hotel was restored by new owners in the 1970’s.

Do you have any more suggestions for what we could in South Dakota?