Nope, the Keystone Cops didnﾕt originate here. But the town does have a lot of history: it was named after the Keystone mine, which was opened in 1891. Built on the ghosts of an older settlement named Harney, Keystone swelled and shrank in response to gold finds for half a century. It settled into relative stability with the arrival of Gutzon Borglum, the man who sculpted the Presidents. In the summer of 1927, when President Coolidge set up his summer White House at Custer State Park, Borglum prevailed upon him to dedicate the work at Mount Rushmore. That led to publicity and fundraising, and modern Keystone found its feet. Unlike some tourist destinations, Keystone has kept its small town identity: the population is still only about 325 and the reception for visitors is warm and welcoming. Among the townﾕs attractions are the Black Hills Central Railroad (the 1880 Train), the Big Thunder Gold Mine, the Rushmore Borglum Story (museum), and a wax museum featuring the Presidents of the United States. Laura Ingalls Wilderﾕs sister Carrie arrived here in 1911 to run the local newspaper, and stayed here until her passing in 1946: check out her story at the free Keystone Historical Museumﾉ
Doane Robinson was born in Sparta, Wisconsin in 1856, and eventually became the South Dakota state historian. He was very interested in attracting tourists to the Black Hills, and his initial plan was to carve famous figures on the Needles – a concept that was strongly opposed by Lakota interests and local conservationists. His choice for a sculptor was Gutzon Borglum, and when the initial project fell through, Borglum suggested carving Presidents on Mount Rushmore.
The purpose, he said, was to ﾒcommunicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.ﾓ Almost three million people visit the site each year, and it has become a national symbol over the decades. If youﾕre within a dayﾕs drive, it is absolutely worth taking the time. There is no entrance fee, but there is a charge to park a car ($11), and that ticket is good for as many visits as you like in one calendar year. Pets on a leash (no longer than six feet – the leash, not the pet!) are permitted only in the parking garages, and in the pet exercise areas adjacent to them. Service dogs are permitted to accompany visitors with disabilities in all areas. There are ample food choices and gift shops on site. Wander down past the front of the auditorium or take the trail along the base of the mountain and you may see some beautiful, snow white mountain goats wandering around in the trees. There are chipmunks, yellow bellied marmots, tree frogs, red squirrels and mule deer along the trails, too. If you have kids in your party, visit the website and download the Student Guide before you visit. Itﾕs a comprehensive and fun guide with a historic timeline, pictures of animals and so on, that can be viewed on a tablet or even a phone in the car on the drive there. Be aware that, around the 4th of July and during the Sturgis motorcycle rally, there will be some delays. Hours are 8 to 5 from October through May, 8 to 10 from June through mid-August, and 8 to 9 from mid-August through September.
13000 Highway 244 (605) 574-2523
The mine was opened in 1892 and skillfully dynamited so that, more than a century later, it is still one of the safest shafts in the hills – so safe, in fact, that it was designated as the townﾕs fallout shelter. The mine extends 680 feet into the mountain, and 240 feet underground. Thereﾕs a restaurant (on the menu are elk, buffalo, duck, pheasant andﾉ rattlesnake!), a gift shop, wine tasting, gold panning, tours (adults $9.95 and kids 5-12 $6.95 in 2016), and a mining museum with a real stamp mill on display.
604 Blair Street (605) 666-4566
Black Hills Central Railroad – Keystone
The other end of the hill City 1880 Train ride, this is a two-hour, twenty-mile round trip through the Black Hills National Forest. One-way and return tickets are available, and booking can be done at the station, or online. Thereﾕs a Depot Gift Shop. The railroad offers some interesting trips, such as a wine-tasting ride in the fallﾉ
103 Winter Street (605) 574-2222
ﾒExplore the life and times of Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mount Rushmore! This is an exciting, entertaining and educational experience for the entire family. Watch the blasting and carving in our exclusive film.ﾓ Family rates. This will definitely enhance a Mount Rushmore visit. Summer months only, and thereﾕs a great gift/book shop.
342 Winter Street (605) 666-4448
The Mirror Maze is an old-fashioned fun hall of mirrors; the 3D Dragon Blaster is a black light, high energy air cannon game with foam balls for 2-12 players at a time; and the Free Fall is a rush of adrenaline when you step off the platform and land safely, 40 feet below!
221 Swanzey St (605) 666-4200
This 7,242 foot summit is the highest point between the Rockies and the Alps. Thereﾕs a fire tower on top that provides exquisite views of the southern Hills. Access is on a strenuous, three-and-a-half mile hike from Custer State Park. This is the Black Elk Wilderness Area and there are restrictions on use. Thereﾕs no road to the summit.
Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) was a Lakota medicine man and a cousin of Crazy Horse. His story is told in the book Black Elk Speaks, by John G. Neihardt (William Morrow & Co., 1932, later republished by the Nebraska University Press). He fought at Little Big Horn as a young teenager, and survived the Wounded Knee Massacre.
The peak was originally named for Bvt. Major General William S. Harney (1800-1889), a U.S. Cavalry officer. In June 1834 while still a major, Harney was charged with the murder of a female slave by whipping her to death over some keys, and he had to flee a mob. He was eventually acquitted in a southern state where no white man would have been found guilty. In the mid-1850s he led attacks against the Sioux, the last of which was the Battle of Ash Hollow. There, his 600 troops attacked 250 men, women and children and killed 86 of them, many of whom had taken refuge in caves along the Platte River under a flag of truce. Harney later professed remorse. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War but proved to be an incompetent administrator, mishandling riots in St. Louis. He then spent a couple of years as an administrator in Washington, before retiring in 1863. In 2015, USA Today ran a piece on the naming controversy surrounding Harney Peak, which the paper said was ﾒnamed for a particularly brutal Army generalﾓ. Despite the history, and heartfelt appeals by Lakota tribal members, the South Dakota Board on Geographic Names voted to retain the name. It wasn't until August 11, 2016 that the name change, designed to honor Nicholas Black Elk and the Lakota Nations, became official.
The Holy Smoke Resort is open mid-May through September, and the one-hour trail rides are mostly on US Forest Service trails.
24105 Hwy 16A (605) 666-4444
Nestled on the side of a pine-covered slope, the course was named after the last active gold mine in Keystone. The 18 holes run up and down the hillside, unified by a gold mining motif and rushing water that flows through sluices, over a waterwheel and into a millpond. There are three kinds of artificial turf that simulate fairways, sand traps and rough. The course is fully lighted and open from 8AM to 9PM from May 15th through October 31st (weather permitting). Adults $9, 6-12 $7, under 6 free (2016).
609 Hwy 16A (605) 666-5170
Located in a beautiful old 1900 schoolhouse, the museum has a small playground and gazebo outside – an ideal spot for a picnic lunch. Inside, one learns about the discovery of gold in Battle Creek, the Black Hills tin boom, Gutzon Borglum and Mount Rushmore, Peter Norbeck and the Iron Mountain Road, C.C. Gideon and the Pigtail Bridges, Carrie Ingalls and The Little House on the Prairie, Wild Horse Harry Hardin, Sugar Babe and a lot of other local history. For a town with fewer than 300 inhabitants, this is an impressive resource and well worth a visit.
The Old Town Walking Tour is self-guided. Follow the numbered signs and read about the history of one of the fastest growing boom towns in the Hills. There are 19 stations on the walking tour, each with a sign.
410 3rd Street (605) 666-4847
This unique museum features realistic, life-sized wax figures of every President of the United States. Experience the feeling of being with President Roosevelt at Yalta, Dolly Madison at a White House reception, or Richard Nixon aboard the U.S.S. Hornet as he welcomes returning astronauts from their moon flight. There are lifelike, life-size figures of all the Presidents in authentic period costumes, and accurately detailed surroundings. Thereﾕs a state-of-the-art narration system, and the historical artifacts include everything from Bill Clintonﾕs red, white and blue saxophone to the Florida 2000 presidential electionﾕs controversial ballot boxes. The gift shop has a special selection of Black Hills Gold, plus fine porcelains and pewter, sculptures, presidential china and other exhibits.
609 Hwy 16A (605) 666-4455
The original attraction here – still just as good in an updated version fifty years later – is a chairlift (like those in ski resorts) that takes you up a mountain just west of the Rushmore carvings. The views are absolutely spectacular, and at the top of the hill there is a whole array of pretty cool things to do, such as swooshing down an Alpine slide (you control the speed – itﾕs like a bobsled ride without the snow), or flying along a zip-line. Thereﾕs an Aerial Park that offers rope courses for climbers of all skill-levels, and plenty of hiking trails and gardens for those who prefer to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. You can have lunch at the Mountain-Top Grille too, amid viewing decks, waterfalls and beautiful flower gardens. The chairlift up/Alpine slide down combo is $12. A round-trip on the chairlift up and down runs $9. The Aerial adventure (climb through the huge Ponderosa pines in harness, on ropes, and travel between more than 80 treetop platforms) is $39. The zip-line is $15 and so is the new free-fall jump tower that invites you to take a 60-foot high bungee-jump step into space. Prices quoted for 2016. This is one of the best places to take a carload of bickering kids, and let them gorge on adrenaline while you feast on the outdoor deck at the Grille, sip a cool beer, or just enjoy an ice-cream and a unique view of Mount Rushmore.
203 Cemetery Rd (605) 666-4478
There are four attractions in one location here. Thereﾕs the Rushmore Mountain Coaster, a three-and-a-half-thousand foot long eight minute roller coaster track with little individual cars that zoom through the forest (you can control the speed). The Soaring Eagle Zip-line feels like flying as you accelerate down 630 feet of altitude on a formed seat (with seatbelts!) suspended beneath a taut cable. Check out the video on the website. You can shoot bandits at the Gunslinger 7-D Interactive Ride, a multi-sensory experience where youﾕll feel the seat move and the wind in your hair as you shoot a laser gun at targets. Or experience the stalactite-filled caverns on a tour of the cave.
13622 Hwy 40 (605) 255-4384
This company has six standard tour packages from $49 to $229 per person in 2016. (605) 666-5580
Horse Thief Lake Campground has 36 primitive tent and RV camping sites on a recreational lake just 2 miles from Mount Rushmore. It sees heavy usage, and to make reservations, call (877) 444-6777. To find the lake, go northwest on Hwy 244 from the Rushmore monument and look for Horse Thief Lake Road on your left. The GPS coordinates are 43.895104 -103.484232
Horse Thief Lake Rd
A ﾔclimbing areaﾕ in the Black Hills National Forest, its trailhead is on Hwy 244 and it borders the National Memorial. This facility was designed to provide parking, bivy sites and bathroom facilities for rock climbers. Note than climbing the Mount Rushmore sculpture is prohibited, but there are many other climbing opportunities in the vicinity. Thereﾕs no potable water. Large vehicles canﾕt access the area. Thereﾕs no fee. A climbing brochure is available from the Lincoln Borglum Museum, or at the Information Center in the Memorial: call (605) 574-2523. The number below is the Forest Service, who can tell you more about this specific climbing area.
Hwy 244 (605) 673-9200
Fifteen miles east of Keystone on Hwy 40 is Hermosa, home to the Hermosa Arts & History Association (cutely named HAHA). This very active community group organizes storyteller sessions such as Ranchers and Rhymes and historic re-emactments, activities involving ranch brands and quilting, and even a Christmas carnival. The volunteers are diligently renovating the former Hermosa School/ Masonic Lodge building and turning it into a museum (see their progress on Facebook).
To contact HAHA, email mike - at - hcinet.net or call (605) 255-5515
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