Black hills, Mount Rushmore KOA, Custer State Park, South Dakota
JULY 23, 2023
I took a trip in 2014, right after my mom died and my life was falling apart at the seems. My beautiful cousin was getting married and I had the opportunity to shoot her wedding, and travel the west. A few years prior to that, Summer, my mom and myself flew out for the first time to Utah to visit my family. That trip began my love affair with the west, going back a few years later without her was hard, but I knew I needed it. My relationship with Summers dad was ending, I was in a terrible court battle with him, Summer and I had moved back home to my condo I owned (forever grateful for that condo) my mom had just passed, and I was barely scrapping by. Looking back, I'm not sure how I even afforded to make it all happen, but we packed our bags and took off for two weeks. In a nutshell, that trip, and the Wild West, changed my life. I fell back in love with myself in those 2 weeks. I realized I was going to be ok. I realized you can do hard things, and that we don't live in straight lines. The good times won't always be good, but the bad times will not always be bad.
I felt my mom in the wind, I saw her in the wide open, in the sunrises and sunsets, in the rainbows and thunderstorms. It was the first time I had felt whole in a really long time. I realized I can not go to long with out trips west, without wide open landscapes, farms that stretch for miles and miles, and the beautiful feeling of being free. Free from life's grasps and demands. Responsibilities, and the auto pilot we tend to live in when we slip in to the daily grind. I realized there was SO much more to the world, so much more to see, and so many places that filled my soul. A highway, in the middle of nowhere, is one of my absolute most favorite things. Happens to be where I am right now, at this very moment, and I love every minute.
My soul is now called to the west often. I'm not sure I could get through a year now without at least one trip. It's almost like its brings me back home. Resets and reminds me of a time when things felt like they could never be ok again, and a reminder that that is not the case. So if you are reading this, and you are struggling, you are going to be ok. You choose, and you can write your own story. Now when I travel, it's a reminded that I have committed to that love for myself I discovered in 2014. That I have since then spent all of my time dedicated and diving head first into everything that I love, that I have worked hard, and that I'm forever fucking grateful. Ok, now about the blackhills, quite possibly one of my favorite places on earth.
Black hills arrival
This is our second arrival to Mount Rushmore KOA, to date our favorite camp ground we have ever stayed at. https://www.palmergulch.com/ . We arrived 2 years ago in our cruise America RV (if you are thinking about giving this whole RV thing a shot, cruise America was a really fun way to try it out, we did it twice. https://www.cruiseamerica.com/ ). We were less savvy then, and entered from our maps GPS the wrong way. Terrifying to say the least. Massive RV, death cliffs on the sides, rookie RV people, UGH. We made it, but those experiences (and arguments lol) have helped us get to where we are now. Two years ago we celebrated Brians 40th birthday on our first night we arrived. Pouring rain, presents, tacos, decorations. It was perfect! We also checked out Mount Rushmore on that trip, which we really loved. So neat to look at this massive mountain and think about how these tiny humans carved these massive faces in them. The monument and area is beautiful, clean and worth a stop for sure.
This stop we were most looking forward to getting out to needles highway, Custard State Park, Crazy horse, and relaxing at the KOA, which sits directly behind Mount Rushmore. Having the jeep in tow is also pretty awesome, because our first two trips (we don't know how we did it now!) we only had the RV. It's fun to hop in the jeep, throw the top down and go explore.
We arrived at the KOA around 5 pm, we just realized today (4 days later lol) that we are 2 hours behind NH now, we thought it was only 1. Somewhere we lost an hour and didn't even realize it, whoops. We were really happy to be somewhere for a few nights. Driving out west in an RV takes a long time, and you need to stop and sleep and rest. When we dreamed of doing this trip, we knew we were going to need a month off to do it reasonably. I made chicken, steak and salad for dinner, we walked the very excited to be out of the RV dogs all around, made some fabulous margaritas, enjoyed our favorite views, and went to bed early to rise with the sun and head to Custard to see some animals at dawn, we hoped. https://www.yelp.com/biz/custer-state-park-custer
Custer State Park
JULY 24, 2023
From the KOA, it takes about 2-3 hours to drive through the wildlife loop at Custer State Park, that's including a few stops and photo ops. We tried to fit this in a couple years ago, and we have been excited to go ever since. It did not disappoint! We got so lucky too!! We saw all the things! We got there about 7 am, it was quiet and perfect. We set out on our wild life hunt. It took a while, but we finally came across a heard of buffalo!! They were just doing their thing! They can sometimes hold up traffic for hours. Luckily that didn't happen to us, but we did get to enjoy them for 15 minutes or so. Mamas and babies, big male ones, it was awesome! So majestic. There is a brand new educational buffalo center 1/2 way around the wildlife loop you can stop at, and there is a really pretty 1 mile loop hike you can take for some movement and good views of the park. We also saw a good amount of pronghorn, prairie dogs, bunnies and just when we thought our adventures in the park were wrapping up, we got to run into the wild burros! They come right over to each car, saying hello and looking for love and treats. We fed them some banana chips and loved every second! We were so happy about all the wildlife that decided to make an appearance for us!
We went back to the RV, hung with the dogs, took some down time and naps, made some lunch, I'm super into frozen veggies in the RV and frozen rice items, easy and healthy. We spent the evening cliff jumping, and swimming at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. https://www.yelp.com/biz/sylvan-lake-state-park-eagle . This lake is so beautiful, you can hike all the way around it (about a mile of beauty, and pretty flat and easy, you can climb all the fun rocks and enjoy the sites, or throw a chair down and swim and rest. Something for everyone. There is also a small Market and water sport rentals (kayaks and paddle boards).
When we got home, we swam, I made French fries in the air fryer for the first time (YUM, loving the air fryer already) Summer got a fire going, and we played UNO attack into the night. Successful day if you ask me.
Crazy Horse Memorial
JULY 25, 2023
Sleep in day! The mornings out west are my favorite! Cool starts, and as soon as the sun comes up it's HOT! Then, as soon as night falls, it cools right off. We set aside this morning to start slow. We have had pretty busy mornings since we left. I made an awesome egg scramble. I love cooking, and it's something I don't get to do often enough at home. We are all always moving in different directions and busy with the life grind. These trips remind me how much I love to cook for my friends and family. I have been doing really good putting together meals with leftovers from other meals as well! It's fun. ( I am going to make breakfast burritos for lunch today from the leftovers from that breakfast!)
Another thing we didn't get to check off the list of our last trip was Crazy Horse Memorial. We really didn't know much about it other than we had heard it was worth a stop, and it was! https://crazyhorsememorial.org/ . The memorial site was beautiful, and informative. The monument is still under construction because it is privately funded. Photos are included of the future end result. If you are ever in the Black Hills, make a stop here for sure. It's quick and fun! The bus tour gives you all the history and takes about 30 minutes.
After Crazy Horse, we found a grocery store and some really awesome soft serve! https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057830521696. This place was also totally worth a stop! Family run for 28 years. The rest of the evening was filed with pickle ball, swimming, and air fryer for the win again, taco fries and tacos! We absolutely love the black hills, and could spend so much more time there. Having Summer and Tylere with us has felt like such a gift (and all the dogs). Tylere is 25, and Summer is 12, but they have such a wonderful bond. Brian and I have been together for 7 years, and when we are all together it's really fun. When I fist started dating Brian I quickly realized I was going to someday be a step-mom to a 19 year old, at the time that was terrifying. I did not know how to parent a 19 year old?! He's 19, he doesn't need me like that at this point?? But fast forward, and I can't imagine life without him. He is such a good son, brother, friend and human. We are so proud of him, and so grateful for everything that he brings into our lives. Im especially thankful for his buffering during heighten times in the RV where we are trying to navigate directions and RV things, lol! Thank you Tylere! We love you!
The kids went and had the endless pancake breakfast at the campground this morning! Brian and I packed up the RV, and off to Montana we went.