A friend of mine from Ohio is in the Black Hills this week with his family. Matt’s spending most of his trip showing his wife and three children around, but he did get stuck with a little work. I caught up with him this morning at the Civic Center in Rapid City, where he gave a great presentation to some local businesspeople.
In the course of his discussion to the group, Matt talked a bit about his first visit to the Black Hills sometime last year. As he was planning, he did a lot of online research. Yahoo! Travel is one of Matt’s favorite sites, among a lot of the others out there, and he used it to really do his homework. He knew exactly where he wanted to visit, and he had it all planned out.
He decided to start with breakfast in Rapid City on his first day, then go to Mount Rushmore. Afterward, he was going to head for Crazy Horse, followed by a trip through Custer State Park, then the town of Custer itself, and then he figured he could catch lunch in Deadwood.
At this point in his talk, Matt stopped. The room – filled with locals – was already laughing. “So maybe I had lunch in Custer,” he said. “A pretty late lunch, that is. Like, 3:00.”
The locals knew his ambitious itinerary just wasn’t going to work, but Matt had no idea – not even after countless hours of research and planning with some really great travel sites.
His experience reminded me of one of the biggest missteps travelers can make when planning a trip to the Black Hills: trying to fit too much into their stay. It can happen when you plan a vacation anywhere (I seem to remember my first trip to Europe trying to cram most of the Greek islands into three or four days), but it seems to be especially true in this area.
It’s probably from a combination of things, but I imagine it has a lot to do with the difference between perception and reality. If you’ve never been to the Black Hills before, you may know of something you definitely want to do – visiting Mount Rushmore, for example. Let’s see… taking in Mount Rushmore. You figure on an hour. If you really speed things along, maybe you can do it in less, right?
Then you get there, and you’re hungry. You notice the granite and glass dining room there has a fantastic view of the sculpture, so you have some breakfast. Then you wander down to the Lincoln Borglum Museum, and your significant other wants to see the introductory film. Afterward, your kids want to play with some of the exhibits. Okay, let’s be honest – you want to play, too. Pushing the plunger down and watching the black and white image of a 1930s-era Mount Rushmore explode before you is impossible to resist.
As you go to leave, a ranger tells you about the Presidential Trail, a boardwalk that takes you down the base of the memorial. The kids need some running around time anyway, so off you go. You see a mountain goat lying along the trail along the way. You take pictures. Then you take more pictures at the end of the trail. Your son pretends to pick George Washington’s nose.
By the time you leave Mount Rushmore, you’ve spent almost three hours there. Oops.
Rushmore is not the only place this happens. Custer State Park is notorious for using an entire day – if not two or three – out of a family vacation. Rapid City, Deadwood, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Devils Tower… they’re all culprits.
If you’re coming to the Black Hills, don’t plan too much. If you can only spare a couple of days out here, allow for plenty of time at the key places you want to go, and come back to see the other sights on another trip. That way, no one ends up disappointed – or eating a late lunch and getting cranky.