Vacation in Lights: Road Trip to Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore didn't disappoint Marie Unger and Jeff Whiting . Unger does regret not visiting the underground museum, though.
Mount Rushmore didn't disappoint Marie Unger and Jeff Whiting . Unger does regret not visiting the underground museum, though.

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Friday, August 27, 2010; 12:55 PM

Marie Unger of Greenbelt is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. You won't win a million dollars if your story is featured; in fact, you won't win anything but the thanks and admiration of your fellow readers. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

The trip: Six days driving around Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska

Who: My long-time boyfriend, Jeff Whiting, sat behind the wheel, with me as his co-pilot.

When: Sept. 7-12

Why: When I realized we hadn't taken a real vacation (i.e., one that didn't involve visiting relatives or attending a wedding) in almost 20 years, I decided it was time for these two history buffs to see Mount Rushmore.

Cost: About $1,600 for airfare, rental car, two nights in hotels and three nights at a bed-and-breakfast.

Go West (Then East): There were no direct flights from Baltimore to Rapid City, S.D., so we flew to Denver, picked up a rental car and drove to Rapid City via Cheyenne, Wyo., where we spent the first night. En route to Rushmore, we stopped to see the North Platte River and the Oregon Trail wagon ruts, paying homage to my paternal ancestors.

Wild at heart: We hiked up and down the viewing platforms at Mount Rushmore, watched a dynamite blast at Crazy Horse memorial and encountered wild burros and bison at Custer State Park.

Drive-by: Jeff drove us from the South Dakota Air and Space Museum next to Ellsworth Air Force Base outside Rapid City, around the Black Hills through Custer, Deadwood, Lead, Sturgis and Belle Fourche, and into the southeast corner of Montana - just to say we'd been there.

Road to nowhere: Jeff likes to take the road less traveled, so I was not surprised to find us on a narrow, winding mountain road headed toward a place marked "Silver City" on the map. The modern ghost town had a few small old houses and not a single living thing. The historical marker noted that the town's heyday was long gone. Duh.

Auto art: On the drive back to Denver, we stopped near the town of Alliance, Neb., to see the outdoor art display known as Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made of cars. In addition, it was homecoming week, and we almost ended up in the parade in our Outback, just like in the Subaru commercial.

Most interesting attraction: For me, it was Mount Rushmore. I've been a presidential history and trivia geek since elementary school, and I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations, but it did not disappoint. (A piece of advice: Don't skip the underground museum; we did, and I regret it). Jeff really enjoyed seeing the B25 airplane at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, the type of plane his late father flew in when he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Best eats: The gourmet breakfasts - quiche, stuffed French toast, eggs Benedict - prepared by Joyce Payton, our hostess at Willow Springs Bed and Breakfast. They were so delicious and filling, we were able to skip lunch and do more sightseeing. I also enjoyed the bison burger at the Old Capitol Grill in Golden, Colo.

Weather report: The weather was perfect: clear, sunnyj skies and temperatures in the 60s and 70s every day. There was snow in the area by the end of the month, so we really lucked out.

Lasting moments: Seeing the handmade diorama in the Rapid City public library of a scene from Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods"; discovering the presidential statues on street corners in dowjntown Rapid City; finally spotting bison after driving around Custer State Park for two hours looking for them; and popping in a John Denver CD and listening to "Rocky Mountain High" on our return to Denver.

Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report each month. To submit, use the categories above as a guide, and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail vacationinlights@washpost.com.


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