Welcome to the U.S of A | South Dakota and Our First Major Monument

After six weeks in Canada we were about to enter the United States for 90 days, or so we thought. The US Customs Officers at the border had other ideas and gave us some interesting information that we weren’t aware of.

We had all the correct paperwork and valid ESTA’s (Visa Waivers) valid for two years (as long as your passport doesn’t expire in that time), which we thought meant we could spend up to 90 days in America at any one time. Well, it does actually mean that, but because we flew through America (on our way to Canada from Japan) and spent a total of about 11 hours at two of its airports on the 6th of September, our 90 day clock started on this date, and didn’t reset even though we had just spent six weeks out of the country. So what did this mean?? We could go back into Canada and apply for a six month visa (no idea what the cost of that might have been or how long the process would have taken) or we could enter now and ensure we left the States by midnight on the 4th December. We had places we wanted to be at certain dates in the coming few weeks so we choose the latter. So how long did we need to be out of America for before we could re-enter?? …. Well, there is no legal or specific amount of time you need to be out once your 90 days has expired before you can try to re-enter. It really just depends on the Customs Officer on the day that you re-enter. Taking all this information in at 9.00pm and with another couple of hours driving ahead of us, we had plenty to talk about while the boys went to sleep in the back.

We were heading to Great Falls, Montana for the night before starting our first major road travel day in the U.S of nearly 900 kms. Just before midnight we arrived at our first American Wyndham property, Super 8 by Wyndham Great Falls (see our Wyndham Properties review here). It was one of the very basic of properties we have stayed at but it did us just fine for a few hours sleep as we needed to get up, have breakfast and get on the road as early as possible as we were to drive most of the day through Montana, cut through the corner of Wyoming and then arrive in Keystone, South Dakota. Our first of many days that we went through three different states. We missed getting a Montana state sign when we entered the previous night but managed to get Wyoming and South Dakota as we had plenty of time and room to pull over and take a quick photo.roadtrip map_1After driving around 900 kilometres (560 miles), we arrived in Keystone in the late afternoon and were pleasantly surprised by our accommodation, Baymont by Wyndham. It was coming to the end of this area’s major tourist season so lots of places were now “closed for the winter” but this was a large property, it was only $62.51 USD per night, it had an indoor swimming pool and hot tub and the room we booked was pretty spacious with a large bed and a set of bunk beds. There were only two eateries open in the small township so after a swim Logan went and picked us up some take out. It took some time as they were incredibly busy. We were surprised there weren’t more places still open as there still seemed to be a reasonable amount of visitors around, it was only late October and the weather was quite mild.

The next morning we had one of our best Wyndham breakfasts and headed out to get our tourist on. First stop, just a quick 10 minute drive from our accommodation, the unmistakable, Mount Rushmore. Besides the silly set up getting into the parking area, trying to get a ticket for the machine ($10 USD/$14.60 NZD) and then more issues on exit, it is very hard to describe in words but the whole area is just hugely impressive. We couldn’t believe how much detail we could see, even as far away from the mountain as at the observation deck, but it was incredible and a big tick off our American ‘want to see’ list.mount rushmore_south dakota_america_1Thankfully Logan found us a couple of other things to do in the area so our huge detour wasn’t just to see one thing. Next up, we drove a further 30 minutes to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This monument has been in progress since 1948 and is very far from completion. Entry to the site cost us $30 USD/$43.80 NZD for our carload.  It is something similar to Mount Rushmore, as in that the American Indians wanted to create this memorial to Crazy Horse (Tasunke Witco).

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also.” – Chief Henry Standing Bear

It took around 14 years to crave Mount Rushmore, whereas Crazy Horse has been worked on for 70 years so far. We looked through the museum, watched a short documentary and took a wander up towards the mountain. It is another incredible site to see but we did wonder in who’s lifetime this project might actually be finished in??crazy horse memorial_south dakota_americaContinuing on a loop we drove another 30 minutes to Custer State Park and paid $20 USD/$29.20 NZD per car to enter (this ticket is valid for seven consecutive days, which is pretty good, but we wonder why there isn’t a cheaper day pass??). From here we drove the Wildlife Loop Road to see what new animals we could spot. Plenty of little prairie dogs digging up the place, burros/mules stopping a group of cars looking for snacks, pronghorns/antelope and some pretty decent sized buffalo/bison.

keystone_south dakota_americaAfter an incredible day out we went back to our accommodation for a swim and a nice warm hot tub. We had decided we would also like to go to see Mount Rushmore all lit up at night so we headed back out in the evening to get some takeaway pizza (another long wait from the same place as the night prior) and headed back to the mountain. We pulled over at a viewpoint, enjoyed our dinner and enjoyed the view. After finishing our dinner we continued further round, past the entrance, to try to get some other photos but it was quite hard as the road was windy and there wasn’t anywhere too safe to stop. Nonetheless, we had a very cool start to our American roadie.mount rushmore at night_south dakota_america

Average Daily Spend for 3 nights – $231.79 NZD ($55.71 under budget per day)

– Paula

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