Rocky Mountains & Western Frontiers Land Tour
8/30/17 to 9/12/17

Due to the length of the review, it is in 5 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 - Denver, CO to Cheyenne, WY to Rapid City, SD
Page 2 - Rapid City, SD to Billings, MT to Cody, WY
Page 3 - Cody, WY to Yellowstone Nat. Park to Jackson Hole, WY

Page 4 - Jackson Hole, WY to Salt Lake City, UT
Page 5 - Salt Lake City, UT to Vernal, UT to Steamboat Springs, CO to Denver, CO


Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore have been on our bucket list for as long as I can remember.  In 2015, we booked a room in the historic Yellowstone Inn for September 2016; since I had decided that we would do a driving vacation to see these beautiful and historic places.   To get a room in the Yellowstone Inn, you need to book at least a year in advance.  In 2016, I was researching the route we would be taking to see other national parks/monuments while in that part of the country.  It was turning in to a whole lot of long days of driving to see what I wanted to see, which would not be that enjoyable for me.  So, we decided to do a Med cruise in 2016 that included Israel, which was also on our bucket list.

During our Med cruise, I was talking with some people who had done a bus tour to the national parks with a company called YMT Vacations ( ).  They told us how much they enjoyed their tours with them and how reasonably priced they were.  When I got home, I checked out their website and found that their Rocky Mountain & Western Frontier tour went to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and several other interesting places; and at a very reasonable price.  I checked out reviews on YMT and saw quite a mixed bag of opinions on them; but the complaints were more on sites that focused on complaints rather than positives.  We had only been on two previous bus tours, one in Greece and the other in Italy.  Those were in 1999 and 2000.  One we enjoyed a lot, the other was not as good, because we had a horrible tour guide.   With a bus tour, the tour guide makes all the difference.  We booked the YMT tour and hoped that we would have a decent guide.


Day 1 – Denver

When looking for flights, we were surprised to find that Southwest Airlines had non-stop flights between Fort Lauderdale and Denver.   We arrived in Denver just before noon and used the Lyft servicer to get to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Cherry Creek (   I really enjoy using Lyft or Uber.  It is so fast, reasonably priced and convenient.

When we entered the hotel lobby, we went to an area where our tour guide had set up a table for the YMT guests to check in.  Our first impression of our tour guide, Scott, was a bit of a surprise.  He was a very large fellow with long hair.  But he also had a very big smile.  We would find out later during the tour, that Scott prefers shorter hair, but grows it long and contributes it to a charity for a friend who died from cancer.  A very generous and caring act indeed.

He greeted us with his deep voice, that would make most radio disc jockeys jealous.  We would find out later that he has done some voice over commercial work.  He was very organized and informative.  He repeated his message as other guests arrived.  Having been a tour guide for 13 years, he knew how to run a tour.  We lucked out with Scott.  He was just an outstanding tour guide and just a nice pleasant person, who’s goal was to provide an enjoyable tour for us.

He made it very clear as to what we would be doing in the morning.  Every day we would have a luggage out time and a get on the bus time.  Unlike our previous bus tours, we didn’t have to hassle with moving the luggage ourselves at all.  It made the daily routine so much easier.

The most common complaint about YMT in the negative reviews was about the hotels used.  I had checked on TripAdvisor and found that of the 13 nights we would be in hotels, we would stay in ones with 3.5 stars for four nights, 4.0 stars for three nights and 4.5 for six nights.  That sounded fine to me.  The Holiday Inn Cherry Creek, which we would also return to for the last night, was a 3.5 star one.  Our room was a basic room, but clean and comfortable.  If we regularly stayed in 5-star hotels, it might be less desirable; but with this being an economy type tour, we were very pleased. 




A disadvantage of this hotel was that there weren’t a lot of restaurant options within walking distance.  There was an Applebee’s across the street where we went to lunch.  That evening we ate at the hotel restaurant, which was pretty good.

Day 2 – Denver to Cheyenne

We were looking forward to the beginning of the tour.  The previous day, Scott told us that it didn’t matter what seats we were in the first day, since each day we would rotate to different seats.  The system worked really well, since we would move three rows forward clockwise each day.  This allowed everyone to be in the front of the bus at some time during the 12 travel days.  The difficulty in this came from the fact that when you moved to a different side of the bus, the people that had been in front of you, were now behind you.  This confused some the people, so some mornings there were seat discussions before we got under way.  The bus was a very comfortable bus that has 56 passenger seats.  We had 49 people on the tour, since 4 people had to cancel at the last minute for some reason.  I was pleased that the seats had adequate legroom for me.  Since I am just under 6 feet tall, legroom can be an issue.  One feature that was really appreciated was the USB power outlets under each seat.  It was so nice to not have to worry about our iPhones running low on power.


Our bus driver for the tour was Jerry.  He was an excellent driver and just a very nice man.  Since Carol had her TravelScoot mobility scooter with her, he would normally take it out of the luggage hold at each stop and put it back in when Carol returned.  Since it only weighs 35 pounds, it isn’t difficult to lift; but it is a bit more challenging to get it into the confined space without much headroom.  One thing that the photographers on the bus really appreciated was that Jerry would clean the bus windows each day.  He would clean the front window several times a day if needed.  With it being enough of a challenge to get photos out of a moving vehicle, clean windows were much appreciated.

After leaving the hotel, we did a Denver city tour.  With Scott being a history major, he was able to give us lots of informative and interesting facts throughout the whole tour.  What was also appreciated was that he didn’t overload us with too much information.  Some tour guides think they have to talk non-stop throughout the full tour.  Scott gave us just enough, so that we could take it in and enjoy the tour.  Our first stop was at the Colorado Convention Center.  We were wondering, why we were stopping there.  As we approached it, the reason became very obvious.


The 40-foot-tall big blue bear is quite an eye catcher.  In addition, the trees trunks had been painted blue; which is quite interesting and attractive.


Scott told us that we could go inside the convention center, as long as we didn’t go in a large group.  He said that some guards would let us in to take photos from the inside and some wouldn’t.  We were fortunate that we had a friendly guard.  The center has a nice-looking interior; but the bear peering through the window is the star attraction.  We had never heard about the big blue bear; but it is apparently quite well known.  One of the other guests told us that his grandson was very excited that his grandfather would be able to get a photo of the bear.


As we continued our tour of Denver, we noticed that the town was nicely decorated with lots of flowers and statues.


Our next stop would be at the Colorado State Capitol building.  As we approached, the gold dome was hard to miss.  The dome is coated with a very thin layer of real gold.  Even with the building being renovated, it didn’t matter, since the dome is the most distinctive part of the building.

We walked around to the other side to get a different view of the Capitol building.  Across the way was a war memorial obelisk in front of another beautiful building.


On the steps of the Capitol, is a “One mile above sea level” marker on the steps.  There is another one 3 steps higher, which was added in 2003 to adjust for the actual mile high elevation.  When the building opened in 1894, their measurements were off.  Everyone wanted to have their photos with the mile-high marker.  It turned out that Denver was one of the lowest elevations we would be at during the trip.

The interior of the building was just gorgeous. 


As I was wondering around the floors trying to find my way to the rotunda, I came to a room where the media had set up cameras for an announcement.  I would later pass by and see the Colorado Governor talking to the crowd.

When I came to the rotunda, it was exquisite.  The ornate grand staircase was surrounded by mosaic paintings on the walls.




The only problem I had with the room was that it was most challenging to get a complete photo of the dome.  People that wanted to get to the center of the dome to take a photo, were struggling with climbing the steps and then looking up to take the photos.  Most had to sit on the steps to keep from losing their balance, me included.  With the size of the dome, a wider-angle lens would have been helpful.


I went up to the next level to get photos of the main rooms of the Capitol; but first took a photo looking down at the staircase. 

My first stop was to the Colorado General Assembly.  I believe that it is the largest room in the building and nicely appointed.


I then went to the Senate chamber, which was also nicely done.


When we got back on the bus, Scott pointed out more places as we headed out of town.  There were many lovely flowered park areas.


We also passed by an amusement park, with the Denver Broncos stadium in the background.

We were headed to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  On the way there, Scott told us to watch for Pronghorn Antelope.  We saw some along the way; but they were pretty far off or we passed them too quickly to take a photo of them.  We stopped in Loveland, CO for lunch.  Scott told us that Wyoming is has the lowest population of all the states.  There are more Pronghorn Antelope in Wyoming, than people. 

None of the meals on the tour were included in the tour price.  I preferred this, since it gave us the flexibility to eat what we want and spend what we wanted.  That day we did what Scott called a “scatter lunch”.  This meant that we parked the bus in a shopping center that had several different restaurants to choose from, where everyone would scatter and go to the one they wanted. 

After entering the State of Wyoming, we had a restroom break at the Northeast Wyoming Welcome Center.  Now this was a nice welcome center, with lots to take in.

As soon as you walk in the entrance, a large mammoth skeleton welcomes you to Wyoming. 


Walking further into the facility, it is more like an old west museum than a welcome center.  They even have a jail cell with Butch Cassidy in it.  The kids that were visiting wanted their photos taken with Butch.

On the return from the back of the exhibits, I took a photo of the mammoth smiling.

Less than an hour after leaving the welcome center we came into Cheyenne.  We had one more stop to make before checking into the hotel.  We were going to see Cheyenne’s Big Boy, the world’s largest steam engines.  Twenty-five of them were built in the early 1940’s.  The last one was retired in 1958.  This is one of only eight remaining Big Boys.  It is easy to see how the train engine got its name.


As we approached the hotel for the night, we made a quick photo stop at the Wyoming State Capitol building.  It was also going through some renovation work.

When we arrived at the Historic Plains Hotel (, Scott got off the bus to get our room keys to hand to us as we exited.  But before that, the hotel manager boarded the bus to welcome us and to let us know that they had cookies and lemonade waiting for us in the lobby.  It sounded like a nice perk of staying there.


As we entered the lobby, we felt like we were going back in time.  The Plains is a National Historic Landmark, built in 1911.  The décor certainly felt early 1900’s and there was lots of memorabilia to look at.  It was a pleasant surprise.

The cookies were even more pleasant.  I wasn’t expecting much, but the cookies were truly awesome and the lemonade most refreshing. 

One of the reasons they have the cookies and lemonade is that they need to use the one elevator to move luggage to the rooms.  We were told that it would take about 15-20 minutes, which allowed time for everyone to relax in the lovely lobby.  I took some more photos of the lobby from the second floor after we were in our room.


The hotel used to have 3 elevators, but only one has been certified to use.  The one elevator that can be used is very small and slow.  This is probably the biggest negative of the hotel.  Scott said the stories he has heard were that the elevators were put in small and low to keep the rich ranchers from bringing their horses to their rooms.  Apparently, this did happen in the good old days. 

The room itself was very large.  It was clean; but there had been a lot of messy patching of the walls, floors and windows over the last 100+ years.   It is a rustic hotel; which was fine for one night; but I wouldn’t want to stay there for too many days.  Since Carol had brought her TravelScoot, Scott had requested handicap rooms at all the hotels.  The only feature we needed of a handicap room was an elevator to get the scooter to the room.


The Plains is recognized as a haunted hotel.  You can read about it at this link:  When the hotel was fairly new, a couple on their honeymoon had some issues.  The husband went down to the bar for a drink, where he met a prostitute.  The new wife apparently followed them back to the prostitute’s room.  She broke into their room, where she caught them in the act and shot them both.  She then committed suicide.  In a different instance, a person was murdered by someone pushing them out of a window.  The article lists manifestations that have occurred at the hotel.  We didn’t experience any of them.  And wisely, I didn’t mention that it was haunted to Carol while we were there.

While Carol was settling in, I went out to do some exploring.  Cheyenne is a town of 65,000 people, but it seems even smaller. 


Across the street from the hotel is the Cheyenne Depot Plaza.  The plaza hosts concerts and other events.  This National Historic Landmark is the former Union Pacific Depot.  There is a small museum in the depot; but with an $8.00 charge, it wasn’t getting many customers.  They had some interesting statuary around the plaza. 




This one statue, A New Beginning, recognized women and their role in settling the west and for being the first state to grant women the right to vote.


The horse drawn carriage route also started at the plaza.

At each stop, Scott would tell us about the various restaurants in the vicinity.  He did not recommend any based on his personal preferences; but told us what other people on his tours had told him about the restaurants.  One restaurant that he told us about was the Albany Restaurant (  It was between the plaza and our hotel, which was quite convenient.  After showing Carol around the plaza we went into the restaurant. 


Each evening, when we would get to our hotel, I would check out the restaurants close by on Yelp.  The reviews were most helpful.  For the Albany restaurant, the most highly recommended item was their prime rib.  Many of the reviewers just getting the prime rib sandwich, since it was a thick piece.    We had some delicious mushroom soup as an appetizer; which I really didn’t need with the large sandwich that next arrived on the table.  The prime rib was perfection.  The reviews were right on.  They also recommended the Jack Daniel’s Bread Pudding.  I am a sucker for bread pudding.  With Jack Daniels in the name, I had to get some.  Carol ordered the carrot cake.  We don’t normally have desserts, except on cruises.  I think this was the only time we got desserts on this trip.  I must say they were really good; but we couldn’t finish them, since they were large portions.



Since it had started clouding up when we went into the restaurant, we were glad we had brought our umbrellas.  When we left the Albany, we had the only rain of the two-week tour; and it wasn’t much.  We were ready for bedtime, plus we had an early baggage out time.

Day 3 – Cheyenne to Rapid City

The Historic Plains Hotel had just recently started including a complimentary breakfast.  Everyone appreciated that.  I didn’t take photos of the hotel restaurant; but it had some interesting memorabilia in it, including large copies of menus from the hotels early days.

We had a lot of driving to get to Rapid City, SD.  Since there weren’t many cities on the road to Rapid City, we stopped at a grocery store in Cheyenne to get sandwiches or other food for a picnic lunch.  On days where we had a long period without any stops, Scott would put on videos telling us about the places we would be visiting.  We would see videos on the way to Rapid City on the construction of Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.  They were most informative and made the time pass by quicker.

The terrain was for the most part boring at the first part of the drive.  I did finally get a photo of some Pronghorn Antelopes. We also did get to see some interesting rock formations along the way.



Our first stop of the day was at the Fort Laramie Historic Site ( along the "Oregon Trail."  I wasn’t that excited about going to an old fort; but one of the reasons we were taking a bus tour was that we assumed they would know the interesting places to go to between the major attractions.  That was a problem I had when trying to plan my personal driving tour.  When we arrived at the fort, I was surprised at how large the complex was.  Buildings were scattered all over the property.

On the way to the welcome center, we stopped at a Pony Express Monument.

We then went to the only surviving enlisted men’s barracks at the fort, the Calvary barracks.  I stopped at several of the rooms to look at the displays inside.  They were nicely done.

Across from the barracks was a stage coach and a horse yoke.  Carol posed and I snapped a photo of her.


We then went to the welcome center to watch a video about Ft. Laramie’s history.  It was quite interesting and made the rest of the visit much more worthwhile.  Throughout this tour, we would hear about the terrible mistreatment of the Indians by our government and the people in general.  I had not realized how bad it was, so the tour was most educational for me.  After watching the video, I went out to explore the area.  I headed to the group of houses a good distance from the welcome center.  There were other houses and what appeared to be ruins of some barracks in the distance; but I didn’t want to walk that far.  It was getting to be a warm day.  Even with it being in the 80’s the lower humidity did make it much more pleasant, especially in the shade.

The first house I went into was the post trader’s store, with different products of the time.


I then went to the Burt House, next door, which was the Lt. Colonel’s quarters.  It was set up with period pieces and was most interesting.  The only issue I had with the various houses was that they had to be viewed through windows or protective plastic put over the doors.  This was fine to prevent people from taking historic objects, except it made it difficult for taking photos in many places. 


The next building was called “Old Bedlam”.  It was the bachelor officer’s quarters.  It got its name due to the boisterous sounds coming from it when occupied.  Old Bedlam is Wyoming’s oldest documented building.   It is a large building with many interesting rooms.  Unfortunately, the glare on protective windows and plastic kept me from getting more photos of this fascinating building’s rooms.

From Old Bedlam, I could get a better look at some of the partially renovated ruined structures across the field; but I didn’t have time or the energy to explore them. 


I headed back toward the bus to find Carol and head for the picnic area close by.  The picnic tables were under large shade trees, which made it most pleasant.  It was nice to just enjoy the outdoors and visit with new friends.  We were thoroughly enjoying this stop, which I had thought might be disappointing.

After lunch, we continued the drive to Rapid City.  The terrain was mainly fields, but it was starting to get more interesting.  We were seeing a lot of strange looking fences.  Scott told us that these were used to help prevent the snow from accumulating on the roads.


The northwest United States has lately been plagued with numerous forest fires.  In the above photo, you can see how the smoke from forest fires is obstructing the view of the mountains in the distance.  Throughout most of the trip, smoke from over 100 forest fires in the northwest part of the country and Canada obscured views of the beautiful mountains.  It affected the photos more than our eye’s ability to see the beauty of this gorgeous part of the country.  I was able to reduce the effect of the smoke in many of the photos when processing the photos in Adobe Lightroom.  It would be nice to return to see the area without smoke, but we were still awed by what we did see.

Not long after entering South Dakota, we began to see areas with burned forests.  The terrain was also getting hillier.  Scott did tell us that during the tour, some of the areas where we saw dead pine trees were the result of an infestation of mountain pine beetles and not the fires.

Shortly after entering South Dakota, we came to our first destination, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD (  Scott, who liked to tell us about what we would be seeing at each stop, had been silent on why we were visiting this site.  He said that he didn’t want to spoil it for us.  We walked into the building and were welcomed with a large mammoth skeleton in the lobby. 


We then all entered the theater to watch a movie about the Mammoth Site.  It was amazing to hear about what we were going to see.  The movie explained how the site was a giant sinkhole, where mammoths, camels, wolves and giant short-faced bears became trapped 26,000 years ago.   In the winter, grass and other plants would grow around the large hot spring sinkhole, since the warm water kept the area free of snow, the plants could grow.  The animals in search of food would see the plants and eat them.  When they got too close to the hole, they would slip in and pile onto the other creatures that had made the same mistake for many centuries.  The site has been excavated for 34 years and they are barely a third of the way to the bottom.  They have found the bones of 61 mammoths so far.  As we entered the covered excavation site, we were shocked to see so many fossils in front of us captured in the old sinkhole.





What is amazing is to see the fossils still sitting in the spots where they were found.  Tools that the people are using to uncover the fossils are in place and they are ready to continue their work.  Since we were visiting in September, most of the interns and volunteers had gone back to school or were working on other projects, so we didn’t get to see them working. 

It is truly an amazing sight to see.  I can’t believe that I have never heard of this place.  Had I not been on this YMT tour, I never would have experienced it.  After leaving the main sinkhole area, we went into a different area where some of their discoveries are on display as is a mammoth model.  Impressive!

I was quite fascinated by an animal that I had never heard of called the short-faced bear.  This was one very tough animal.  It could take on animals much larger than it.


They had also found the bones of a young mammoth, which they have made a model of; along with many other fossils.


This place had been an unexpected surprise and pleasure.  On a day that I had expected just a long day’s drive, I had seen two places that really impressed me.  As we were leaving the site, I was able to get a photo of the large mammoth at the entrance to the park.

Not far away, we started to get into much more interesting terrain and smoke.  We also passed through Hermosa, SD, where they had busts of former Presidents of the USA, Kennedy, Reagan and Bush.  They say that they are giving visitors alternatives to the four Presidents at Mt. Rushmore.            


Since we didn’t get into Rapid City until after 6:00 PM, we were through touring for the day.  I couldn’t wait until the next day to see the famous mountain.  As we drove to the hotel, Scott pointed out statues of Presidents on each corner of the main street.  I wasn’t able to get photos on the way in; but would the next day.  Our hotel for the next two days was the Howard Johnson Rapid City (LINK).  I was quite pleased, since it was a really nice hotel.  We had a huge and very comfortable room. 



We were so looking forward to spending two nights there and not having to pack the next morning.  The only down side of the hotel was that there were no restaurants close by.  We could walk 15-20 minutes to the main street where we saw lots of restaurants; but we decided to just order in Chinese.  The hotel had several menus from places that would deliver.  On the plus side, the hotel had free beer, wine, cold drinks and popcorn from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM.  Perfect!  Most of the group sat around for a while chatting and drinking too much.  At least I did.  The Chinese we ordered was quite good. 

Day 4 - Rapid City
We were able to wake up a bit later, since we didn’t have to put our luggage out around the normal 7:00 AM time.  We slept very well.  My only complaint about the hotel was that the towels were rough, I assume from their washing/drying process.  It is a minor complaint compared to all the positives of this hotel.  The hotel had an included breakfast, which was most appreciated. 

This was the day I had been waiting for the most on the tour.  We would be going to Mt. Rushmore (, the iconic symbol I had seen all my life in so many forms other than in person.  We loaded on to the bus and passed by the statues of Presidents Kennedy and Jackson.  Rapid City is known as the City of Presidents, not only on Mt. Rushmore, but on the street corners.


The ride to Mt. Rushmore took about 45 minutes.  Everyone was excited when they got their first view, from a distance, of the four Presidents on the side of the hill.  Lots of photos were taken through the bus windows; but it wasn’t long until we were passing through the entrance gates and able to see them even more clearly.

Since we were visiting there on Saturday of Labor Day weekend, there was a pretty good crowd sharing the experience with us.  We moved closer passing through the Avenue of Flags.  This section was added in 1976 for the country’s bi-centennial. It contains 56 flags including the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, the territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands; and the commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Once through the Avenue of Flags, we walked onto the Grand Terrace for the best view of the mountain.  It is there that everyone wants to have their photos taken or they make selfies with the Presidents in the background.  We certainly felt the need to do it also.

It was at this time that I took way too many photos; plus, I changed over to my telephoto lens to get close ups of these amazing figures. 




In the video, we saw about how the statues were made.  They discussed how the sculptor put the sparkles in their eyes.  Below is an extreme close up of Washington’s right eye that shows how the effect was accomplished.

We had signed up for the optional tour to see the evening illumination ceremony, which would be held in the amphitheater, in front of and below the Grand Terrace.  It was a large area that can seat 8,500 people.  Scott said that we would arrive early enough in the evening to be able to eat and then get seats, since it could be standing room only over Labor Day weekend.

After taking all the photos I wanted, I decided to walk along the Presidential Trail, that goes up the mountain and in front of the Presidents.  There were signs indicating that the trail was closed in a section, which prevented me from walking over to the Sculptor’s Studio.  That was where there is a plaster model of what the completed mountain was supposed to look like.  The statues were never completed.  I still wanted to go along the trail to see the statues from a different angle.  When I reached the area just under the Presidents, I found that it wasn’t that great of an angle.  I took some photos and headed back to the Grand Terrace.


After enjoying the view on the terrace, I made my way back to the entrance.  The crowds were getting larger.  I took a photo of the statue of the sculptor and driving force behind Mt. Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, that was sculpted by his son Lincoln Borglum.  From the video we watched, Gutzon was apparently quite a character.


I went into the welcome center to ask how far it would be to the Sculptor’s Studio from there, rather than the Presidential Trail.  They said that it was only about a ten-minute walk.  Since I still had over 30 minutes until I had to be back on the bus, I decided to go for it.  After all, I didn’t think I would be back in South Dakota again.  The walk didn’t look that far on the map.   The map also didn’t show all the stairs I would have to walk down to get to the studio.  I wasn’t concerned about going down them; but I wasn’t looking forward to going back up them.  Since I was on a mission, I couldn’t worry myself about it.

After about 11 minutes, I finally came to the studio building.  I went in, took several photos and looked at some of the displays of tools used in the construction. 


I couldn’t spend a lot of time there, since I knew the walk back up to the entrance would take longer than the walk down.  When I got about half way back up the paved trail, I notice several people taking what looked like a shortcut back to the gift shop area.  When I looked at the paved trail I was on, it was heading down and going away from the entrance; which meant that there would be even more uphill steps.  It made sense to take the shortcut.  It would have made more sense if I was twenty years younger.  I really need to stick to the designated paths.  I started the climb, with little trouble; but when I got about half way up, I realized this might not have been the best choice.  I took photos looking back at where I had come from and up to where I was going.  I couldn’t go back down now, so I took my time finishing the climb.


When I reached the top, I realized that I was back at the Grand Terrace and would have to now walk all the way back to the entrance.  I needed to hurry back to the bus.  I am normally a fast walker; but my left foot had been bothering me some, which was slowing me down.  The climb probably didn’t help my foot either.  When I got back to the bus, Scott was telling everyone to walk down the sidewalk to see two mountain goats in the woods.  I could see both of the goats, but could only get a photo of one of them.

Our next destination was to the Crazy Horse Memorial (  The twenty-mile drive through the heavily wooded Black Hills was very pretty and quite a contrast to the barren lands we had passed through the previous days.


We arrived at the main building, and unloaded to begin our tour.  I had seen documentaries about the Crazy Horse Memorial and knew that it was a work in progress with not much of the statue completed.  We had also seen a video during the drive there about Crazy Horse.  Like most of the stories we had heard, Crazy Horse and his tribe had been badly treated by the government.  When we entered the building, we were surprised at how large it was.  The lovely wood paneling covered the walls and ceiling.  This was a most impressive place. 


Part of the building is the Indian Museum of North America.  But, there was Indian memorabilia and displays throughout the building; as well as numerous vendors selling authentic Indian merchandise.  It was a fascinating place. 



We had seen glimpses of the statue in the distance as we approached the park; but I was anxious to get outside to see it close up.  To get there, I had to go through a maze of large rooms with interesting things I would go back to look at later.  When I finally found the exit to the Viewing Veranda, I first saw the 1/34 scale model of what the completed statue would look like.  In the background, I could see the completed face on the mountainside, and get an idea of how much more work needed to be done.  It is certainly a work in progress. They are hoping that the statue will be completed by the end of the century, so probably almost no one alive today will see the completed statue.  But it is still worth seeing what has been accomplished.


The veranda itself was quite a place.  There was a fountain and pool with a bridge going over it in the center, with a huge restaurant and snack bar on one side.


Of course, the main attraction was the view of the mountain itself. It was disappointing that the viewing area was so far away from the statue.  What most people don’t realize is that the Crazy Horse statue will be significantly larger than Mt. Rushmore when it is completed.  All of the Mt. Rushmore President’s statues would fit in the area where Crazy Horse’s hair will be.  This will be one massive statue, if and when completed.  Unlike Mt. Rushmore, which was built with public funds; the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski and his descendants, have done all the work with private funding. 



With the statue being so far away, even with my telephoto lens, I was not pleased that I couldn’t get closer photos of the face.  Also from the veranda vantage point, visitors could only see the statue’s profile.  Scott had told us that if we wanted to get closer, we had a couple options.  We could take a shuttle bus to the base of the mountain for $4.00 per person; or we could go right up to the top of the mountain right in front of the face for $125.  Since the $4.00 option would more than satisfy my desire to get closer, I left the building to find the bus ticket booth.  After purchasing my ticket, I only had to wait about ten minutes until the large white school bus drove up.  I was surprised that there were only about ten of us on a bus that could easily hold fifty people.  But with it not being crowded, it allowed everyone to sit on the driver’s side of the bus.  He told us as we were boarding that it was the better side to see the mountain.

As we headed down the road, it was obvious that this was a good idea, I was getting so much closer to the mountain and could get a much better view of the amount of work that has been done.  It is amazing how much of the mountain has been removed for the statue.  I could understand better why it had been taking so long to do.  We were also able to see the full face, rather than just the profile.  We first drove around the front of the mountain, where we could see how much stone had been cut away from both sides of the statue.


We then stopped at the best viewing angle to get photos.


The driver was most helpful in taking photos of everyone with the statue in the background.

I just couldn’t stop taking photos.  It was so much better to see from this viewing point.  I could see the full face.  What is interesting is that there are no photos of Crazy Horse in existence.  The statue was designed based on descriptions from people who had seen him in person.

After returning to the welcome center, I walked around the exterior to see some other statues on the grounds created by Korczak.  They were quite beautiful.


His Nature Gates are particularly interesting in that they have 270 brass figures of different animals on them.


I went back inside to see some of the exhibits I had missed when we first entered the facility.  I was fascinated with the Sculptor’s Studio section.  It had lots of original work by Korczak.  He was quite an artist.



As I was leaving the welcome center, I saw a model of what the full mountain would look like when completed.  It is amazing to see how massive it will be; but also to realize how much of the mountain will have been removed to create the statue.


I must say that if you ever visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, you should not miss taking the shuttle bus to see it close up.  I was surprised when we got back on the bus later.  Scott asked how many people took the shuttle bus; and only one other couple had done it.  Everyone else really missed the highlight of the visit.  When I got back to the hotel after the visit and at breakfast the next morning, I told everyone I met that were going to the park, not to miss taking the shuttle bus.

We headed back to the hotel around 3:45 PM.  It had been a fascinating and most worthwhile touring day.  Those of us that had booked the optional tour to the Mt. Rushmore illumination ceremony, wouldn’t get to stay at the hotel for long, since we would be getting back on the bus at 5:45 PM to go back to the park.

Since we passed by the President’s statues on the corners again, I was able to get photos of Presidents Truman, Harrison, Taft, Van Buren.  I wish that the hotel had been a bit closer to the area of town where the statues were, so I could have walked in to get more photos, rather than having to shoot them from the bus.  With my foot still giving me some trouble, I just couldn’t risk walking that far.

Harry S. Truman                           William Henry Harrison                        William Howard Taft

Martin Van Buren

On our way back to Mt. Rushmore, I was able to get some photos of the cute little tourist town of Keystone, SD, that is very close to the mountain.  This place had lots of cute places for tourists to spend their money.  It would certainly be a good place to book a hotel if you were spending a few days in the area.


I got a kick out of the place called Teddy’s Deli.  A clever name for a deli next to his statue on the mountain.

When we had driven through Keystone in the morning, I spotted some beautiful wood carvings; but I was unable to get photos of them since I was on the wrong side of the bus.  Since there were no assigned seats for the optional tours, I made sure to get on the correct side to get photos of them.


When we got to the park, we headed to the restaurant for dinner before the show.  After dinner, we went down to the amphitheater to find seats.  Since we were early, we were able to get decent seats near the back.  In addition to having a better angle of view of the President’s, I was able to sit in front of the wall, where I could lean back on it, like is shown in the below photo.  I was also just in front of Carol, who had her own seat with a back on her TravelScoot, and she was able to park between the row of seats behind me.

Scott had been right about the crowds.  The place filled up quickly, so I was glad we were there early. 

The actual show started at 8:00 PM; but a park ranger came out earlier to play some quiz games about the park to keep everyone entertained.  It was more focused on the children in the audience; but everyone participated.  She also did a moving presentation about the poem created during the battle of Ft. McHenry and its inclusion as the words of our National Anthem.  They then showed a short patriotic video before the actual illumination.  When the lights came on, the four Presidents were illuminated; well, at least 3.5 of them were.  Poor Abe didn’t get as much illumination as the rest.  There must have been an illumination malfunction, since Abe has equal lighting in photos I have seen of this display.  But it was still quite a sight to see.

After the show, we went back through the Avenue of Flags, which was also nicely illuminated, especially with the Presidents as a back drop.

It had been a very full and enjoyable day; but we were exhausted and ready to fall into bed.  Carol still needed to get the luggage packed for our next trip in the morning.  She had really gotten good at organizing the pack/unpack routine.

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