To say that I wasn’t thrilled about our first planned stop on our 2014 family road trip  would be an understatement.

I never really had much interest in seeing Mount Rushmore in person. My husband was the driving force behind this stop. He’s a thinking man. He’s always wondering how things are made. When I’d prefer to watch dramas or mindless comedies on TV  he prefers to watch informative television *snore*.  I am pretty sure that he’s seen just about every episode of the History Channels “Modern Marvels”. Without a doubt, he saw a special about the engineering behind the famous Mount Rushmore memorial on TV which would ignite the interest in seeing it in person. (I give him a hard time, but I’ve learned a LOT from him and continue to learn new things every day – thanks honey.)

So, here we are. And this is how we spent our super brief afternoon in Keystone, SD.

Leg 1- 1,300 Miles. 19 Hours.

I realized in a panic within a few hours of leaving home that I had left my brand new point and shoot camera sitting on the counter in my kitchen back in Ohio. My husband saved the day when he suggested that we stop at the nearest Walmart and buy an inexpensive camera to make it through the trip. Unless otherwise noted, every photo I publish from #BarnesRoadTrip2K14 was taken with that cheap little point and shoot from Walmart.


After driving for almost 22 hours straight (we found out quickly that we would almost always be running behind by a few hours), we finally exited I-90 in Rapid City, SD. It was great to get off the Interstate and I think it reignited the excitement among our little group. My kids were tired, Chris and I exhausted. But we kept on trucking. The Mount Rushmore memorial is about a half hour south of the Interstate, and the views along the way were a welcome change from hundreds of miles of small rolling hills covered in long, flowing grasses and a million Wall Drug signs.

The drive to the top of the hill that Mount Rushmore is carved from delivered beautiful views of the surrounding landscape as well as the first glimpses of the giant faces, and if you’re on a tight schedule you could snag a quick photo here. After having experienced everything that Mount Rushmore has to offer, I can honestly tell you that I don’t recommend doing that. Spend 2 hours here and see it all. You’ll be happy you did.

With that being said, here’s what we did in about 2.5 hours –

First we stopped in at the information center to check out the bookstore and grab some Junior Ranger packets. Junior Ranger packets are fun and educational ways for kids to connect to the park they are exploring. Since we learned about the Junior Ranger program my girls have done it in every National Park we’ve been to, and I’m glad they do it. I get to learn a lot and be more involved while we are exploring too! Anyways…

After obtaining the Junior Ranger packets we took a stroll on the Presidential Trail. This trail is a 0.6 mile paved trail that gives you an up close view of the statue, as well as access to the Sculptors Studio. The Sculptors Studio is rich in history and has some really cool information and an awesome 1/16th scale sculpture. It also has regular ranger led programs, so if you choose to do the Junior Ranger challenge, this is a great place to get a lot of the information you need.

Once we finished up in the Sculptors studio we headed over to the Lincoln Borglum visitors center. It is located under the Grand View Terrace and has a really neat museum, a gift store, and you can visit one of two theaters to watch the Mount Rushmore movie. I definitely recommend doing this, if you can do nothing else. It helps to really understand how much of a feat this statue was for its time, and how incredibly dangerous the work was compared to today’s standards.

After we visited all that the park had to offer, we located a few park rangers and the girls were sworn in as Junior Rangers for the very first time. This was a very proud mommy moment!

And thats how I would spend 2.5 hours at Mount Rushmore. Since we had a little more time left in our day… 

We only had a few hours left until dark by this point, so we hit the road and drove over to the Crazy Horse monument to take a quick peak at it. Crazy Horse memorial is about twenty minutes SW, so if you’ve come this far you may as well check it out. The drive to it is very pretty, in the sparkly granite hills of South Dakota. We didn’t spend more than five minutes here because we had missed the rodeo we hoped to see and were running low on time.

Up next, we stopped in town on our way to our campsite in Custer State Park for a quick bite to eat. After having been on the road and active for well over 24 hours at this point, we were only interested in being fed and finding our campsite. I can’t remember the name of the place that we ate at, although I suppose I could find my Facebook check – ins. It wasn’t anything special however, and I’m pretty sure that my youngest had a touch of food poisoning from this place.

We had a mediocre dinner and drove to Custer State Park. I am sad that we only spent one night in this park – it is absolutely gorgeous! We wound up the hills and through carved caves and eventually found our campsite, a cute pad up a steep hill.

By the time we finished setting up camp for our very first night of sleep it was dark and we were all exhausted so Chris and I sent the girls to their tents.

The moon that night was full and bright and it illuminated the entire campground in a gorgeous cast of cool white light. We grabbed the SLR and his new telescoping lens and climbed to the top of the hill that we were camped on. The climb was a bit steep, but nothing crazy. As I navigated through the pine trees and branches I noticed the glittering quartz under the fallen needles. It was so shimmery and gorgeous! I will never forget how exciting it was to see all that glitters under my feet out in nature.

The moon was beautiful from the top of the hill, so we grabbed a few quick shots and made our way back to our tent.

2 hours after we finally fell into a coma worthy sleep, we were woken by the sound of my youngest daughter moaning. I called out to her to find out what was wrong just to find out that she had puked in her sleep, on her pillow…. next to my middle child. Because why not?

I reluctantly climbed out of my tent and helped Bree get out of bed. I cleaned her up while my husband handled her bedding. And by handled it, I mean.. he burned the pillow. We put her back to bed and fell back into a deep sleep on our cold air mattress.

Just a few hours later, we woke up to the scariest sounding thunder I had ever heard. I mean, this thunder sounded like Thor himself had come smashing down into the canyon. Chris and I woke up, panicked, and decided to try to beat the impending death storm and get the hell outta there. We woke up our kids, the puker completely lacking in helpfulness, the middle daughter not doing much more than that. Destiny (13 at the time), Chris and I loaded everything into our van as fast as we could at 6 am, but we didn’t beat the rain. No sir. We got caught right in the heart of it. As a matter of fact, it poured rain from the time that we collapsed the tents, until we pulled out of the parking lot. And just like that, the storm moved out and the sun shone down on us. There was no order to anything we had packed. We tossed everything everywhere in a wet, mad dash to get sheltered in the van… and just like that, we left. Not even 12 hours after setting up camp, we were gone.

Amberly would get sick a few more times on the road through out the morning. We asked ourselves if we should just go back home and enjoy a stay-cation for the remaining two weeks. Obviously, we made the executive decision to keep going on our #BarnesRoadTrip2K14 journey. And I’m pretty sure that all 5 of us, along with Chrissy and Seamus who we would later meet up with would agree, it was worth it.

What trials and tribulations have you faced while traveling? How were you able to overcome them?