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Mount Rushmore is one of the iconic images of the National Parks Service.  The carving done using mostly dynamite, started in 1927 and took 14 years to complete.  The blasted rock can still be seen under the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.  We visited on a beautiful Summer day to learn about the four former presidents, why they were chosen and how the memorial was built.  There is a nice museum under the viewing deck, so make sure you descend the stairs and check it out.  We also took a short hike to the underside of the mountain used for the carving.  The children earned their Junior Ranger badges and stamped their National Parks passport.  We spent about two hours viewing and learning about the monument.

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After Mount Rushmore, we visited Bear Country USA.  This is a drive through zoo, where you will see many different species of wildlife that are native to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was a lot of fun to see the animals up close, but there was a lot of traffic and it took a big portion of the day.  This is something I’m glad we did once, but we’d probably not go a second time.

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We came back through Custer State Park and drove on the Needles Highway, which is a stunning drive that must be done while in South Dakota.  There are twists and turns and driving literally through the mountains!  One of the things we didn’t plan for was the distance each of the sites are from one another.  One a map it looks like everything is in the Black Hills, so it must be very close, but these places are an hour or more from each other.

Our campground was really cute and our cabin was simple and charming.  We had beds (needed to provide our own linens), air conditioning, electric and a fire ring with picnic table outside.  The campground also provided lots of great resources like nightly educational discussions and wildlife spotting.

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We woke up nice and early, cooked a lovely breakfast on our trusty camp stove and headed to Jewel Cave National Monument, another National Park treasure.  We got there too late to book a cave tour.  I was completely bummed out, but we had to make the best of it.  We were not going to be able to see the cave.  😥  The children decided they still wanted to do the Junior Ranger badge and attend a scheduled Ranger program about White nose syndrome in bats.  This syndrome is very scary and affecting bat populations all across the Eastern US and it was very interesting to learn more about it.

The children obtained their badges and we reluctantly left the park feeling completely unsatisfied.  If you would like to take a tour, best bet is to be there by 7am in the morning.

We decided to drive through Custer State Park wildlife look again and bring the pieces of apple I had cut up for the burros.  Don’t be the jerks feeding them Doritos and cookies.  These are beautiful animals and they deserve to be fed something other than junk.

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More buffalo!

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We all had a wonderful time feeding the burros.  I don’t have many pictures because I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

After our time on the wildlife look, we decided to go for a swim at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  The lake is gorgeous!  There are several hiking trails around the lake and we saw some daredevils rock climbing to the high peaks of the rock formations near here.  My Mom and I were exhausted, so we sat on our butts while the kids dipped into the ice cold water of the lake.

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The beach area at Sylvan Lake is very small and there were absolutely no places for us to sit.  Instead we sad on a boulder while the kids swam for about an hour.

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Custer State Park is full of great surprises.  We were there for three nights and didn’t have a chance to see it all!  Don’t miss Custer State Park while you are in South Dakota!

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My daughter says this looks like a photoshopped image, but it’s not!!  Custer State Park is actually this beautiful!  You will not be disappointed if you make a stop here for a few days.