Blue Bell at Custer State Park with Devil’s Tower, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse

To accomplish our goal of visiting all 48 continental United States we left Makoshika State Park for North Dakota. We crossed the state line and stopped at the Beach interstate exit, so we technically went to a beach this summer! In Beach, we got coffee at Badlands Barista and Boutique, which is an espresso bar (no drip coffee) and western wear store in an old wood floor downtown building. That was our official visit to North Dakota. Getting back on track towards Devil’s Tower involved a very slow 5 mile drive down a country dirt road flanked with beautiful farmland.

Several hours later we arrived to Wyoming at Devil’s Tower. Unfortunately, the road up to the base of Devil’s Tower was closed due to construction (or to social distance), so we parked Shana at the bottom and set out to hike. Rangers told us the hike up was about a mile, so it sounded easy enough. Before we set out across a field littered with prairie dogs and their holes, a ranger asked if we had water, then gave us several a bottle for each of us.

We set out up the mountain on a single track trail that switched back and forth up the hill while Devil’s Tower always seemed to keep its same distance. A storm brewed out in the distance, but as we’ve learned in the big sky of the west those distant storms are hours away and most will never come near. We asked the one ranger we passed on the trail if we should be concerned and he said we had a couple hours. Thirty minutes later heavy winds picked up and then rain, so we turned around shielding the little kids behind ourselves and even in a cave. Back down the hill we scurried and at the bottom the weather subsided.

On our way to Blue Bell Campground at Custer State Park, we stopped at REDwater Kitchen in Spearfish, South Dakota. As soon as we entered South Dakota the Interstate had a grooved, wavy surface. Towing Shana on this felt like strong winds were hitting us sideways blowing us left and right on the road, but there were no winds, just these wavy grooves we grew to hate in South Dakota. We wish we could have spent more time in Spearfish and to drive through Spearfish Canyon, but we headed onto Custer through Rapid City.

We arrived to the east entrance of Custer State Park at dusk and did not realize how enormous the park is. For example, from the visitor’s center it was a 13 mile drive up to and down from Mt. Coolidge to get to Blue Bell Campground passing other campgrounds, fishing lakes and the State Game Lodge. The State Game Lodge was built in 1920 and famously visited by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 when he dedicated Mount Rushmore. Of all the campsites we visited on our Pacific Northwest Road Trip, Custer and Yellowstone are the two that could keep us busy for multiple days.

Blue Bell Campground campsites have electricity hookups, nice gravel pads and nice, large metal picnic tables. The campground has a large community bathhouse with hot water and several showers. Water can be drawn from an outdoor spigot near the bathhouse. A horse pen is at the entrance of the campground and two things remind you of this at campsite 3E: group horse rides by the campsite throughout the day and the occasional whiff of horse in the wind. Legion Lake is the closest grocery, cafe, playground and fishing hole to Blue Bell, so we made a few visits there.

From Custer we drove to Mount Rushmore a day before President Trump would arrive to address the nation on the eve of Independence Day. The indoor facilities were closed due to Covid-19 and sections were roped off in preparation of the president, but we were able to get great views and complete the junior ranger program.

From Mount Rushmore we headed to Crazy Horse, the same way Matt went almost 20 years ago. Then, Matt was more impressed with Crazy Horse than Mount Rushmore, but this time was different. Improvements to Crazy Horse statue were not detectable, but lots of development around the gift shop and “museum” was. Still a remarkable feat and story, it seems the independence and original mission is not the same although it is hard to place a finger on why. If you are in the area do you have to see Crazy Horse…yes. Is it as inspiring as it once was…not as much.

In leaving Custer we drove with large raw carrots through the southern portion known as the wildlife loop, because our campground host spoke so excitedly about the “begging burros (Spanish donkey)”. The rangers at the wildlife visitor center pinpointed their last spotting on a map, but instead of seeing burros there we got traffic jammed by a herd of several hundred bison, bulls and calves. It was the highlight of our trip and perfectly timed to be stuck in the herd when hundreds of cars were stuck before and after.

Our retro red vintage camper, Shana, traveled a total of 356 miles through 4 states to Custer State Park towed by a 2006 Toyota Sequoia to camp near Custer, South Dakota. On this camping trip 8 admirers complimented our restored 1958 Shasta Airflyte Deluxe travel trailer. Bennett Burgess, Cannon Burgess, Kimber Burgess, Matt Burgess, Ruby Burgess, Teagan Burgess camped 2 nights at campsite #3E in South Dakota with temperatures ranging from 48℉-95℉ arriving Wednesday, July 1, 2020 and leaving Friday, July 3, 2020. For more information about this travel trailer destination at Custer State Park in South Dakota go to https://gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/custer-state-park/.
makoshika-to-custer-map

One Comment

  1. Gene Wasserman

    Matt & Kimber
    Love your adventure…. and that your bringing your 4 kids – will be an experience (and story) that your family will share forever…
    Hope your well Matt….. Been many yrs since I left Atlanta…
    Keep sharing the adventure…
    GeneW

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