Our Road Trip Out West!

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With a week of vacation between my old a new jobs we spontaneously decided to go on a little road trip. The target was Mount Rushmore, but I quickly added The Badlands to the plan and then a possibility of either Yellowstone or the Rockies for a flying visit.

Note: Click any photo to go to my photo gallery, which will give you access to more photos of the same location and/or type.

Sunday (22nd August, 2010) – Day One.
We packed and started driving west on I-80, eventually moving onto I-90. During the trip Sheila was entertaining herself (and Facebook) by posting photos of Mr. Potatohead going across state lines and in various poses. On this first day we drove out of Illinois and into Iowa, north into Minnesota and west into South Dakota. We stayed at a hotel in a town called Mitchell.

Mr. Potatohead strapped in and ready to go!

Mr. Potatohead strapped in and ready to go!

Monday – Day Two.
We left the hotel early and continued driving west on I-90. The scenery began to change (it had been mostly flat with just a few rolling hills through Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota) and each time we reached the top of a hill we had a new painting to look at infront of us. The scenery became more and more beautiful the further west we went.

Rolling hills in South Dakota. Photo taken from the car.

Rolling hills in South Dakota. Photo taken from the car.

One constant while we were driving was roadside advertising… One company in particular called “Wall Drug” advertised all the way from Minnesota and we assumed there must be a store in every town. The amount of ads was absolutely incredible and each one seemed to be different.

One of the many road-side ads for Wall Drug. Photo taken from the car.

One of the many road-side ads for Wall Drug. Photo taken from the car.

As some of the road signs started to tell us how many miles to The Badlands we knew we were getting close… Then all of a sudden the grass which had been to my left side disappeared and exposed the beautiful rock formations we had come to see.

Our first glimpse of the incredible rock formations. Taken from the car.

Our first glimpse of the incredible rock formations. Taken from the car.

We then exited I-90 and got onto SD 240-W (also known as ‘The Badlands Loop’ because it leaves I-90, takes a scenic course through The Badlands and then rejoins I-90 again). This is the route I had planned to take to see The Badlands and it certainly did not disappoint… The Badlands are without a doubt the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Volcanic ash, ancient sea beds and Prairie grass mix together to form The Badlands.

Volcanic ash, ancient sea beds and a Prairie grass mix - The Badlands.


Watch on Youtube.
So close you can almost touch them while driving…

No photo really does The Badlands justice… Infact most of the photos do not look real because of the colors. It’s even hard to comprehend the scale of the place as we only saw a small part of this national park on the loop road. Only a panoramic can really give any sense of scale…

This panoramic shows many, many miles of scenery.

This panoramic shows many, many miles of scenery.

After driving through (and stopping often to take photos) we saw a sign that we were entering the town of Wall. Of course the sign which welcomes you into the town was advertising a business… Can you guess which one? Wall Drug – of course!

Any company willing to advertise the way they did deserves a visit. It turns out we were not the only ones lured in by their signs, the store was FILLED with tourists!

Any company willing to advertise the way they did deserves a visit. It turns out we were not the only ones lured in by their signs, the store was FILLED with tourists!


We then rejoined I-90 and drove towards Hill City. It was located deep within the Black Hills and had a very ‘western’ look to it. We dropped our things at the hotel and then drove towards Mount Rushmore.
The Black Hills were another beautiful location to drive through. Taken from the car.

The Black Hills were another beautiful location to drive through. Taken from the car.

By the time we got to the monument the sun had already gone down and the faces were in shadow. We first didn’t enter the grounds and drove around to get a profile shot of Washington.
George Washington profile view.

George Washington profile view.


We then came back and entered the monument, taking plenty of photos of the faces in shadow, taking advantage of the lighting differences at this time of day.
Mount Rushmore with the faces in shadow.

Mount Rushmore with the faces in shadow.


As the sky turned dark, a presentation was started which included a video about each of those featured in the memorial and their impact on the United States. It felt like a very educational and inspirational place to be at that time and looking around me I could see more elderly people than any other age group. I felt pretty lucky at that point to be free enough to have come here to do this (especially as someone who is not American) and to be surrounded by many dressed in military uniforms who had – along with many of the elderly from my own country – fought to give me that right. I mentioned to my wife that some of these people have probably wanted to be here their entire lives and this is their night, I felt quite lucky to have been there at such a relatively young age.

At the end of the presentation the sun had completely set and the monument had begun to fade into the darkness, but after lowering the flag they turned on spotlights which illuminated the faces again. After taking some photos of the monument we returned to our hotel in Hill City.

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial at night.

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial at night.

View Day Two photos from:
I-90-W, The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore in profile, shadow and at night.

Tuesday – Day Three.
Rising early we drove straight back to Mount Rushmore so that we could take advantage of the early morning sun. Before heading up to the monument, however, I took some time to take a few photos of the surrounding scenery.

The Black Hills are stunning, absolutely stunning.

The Black Hills are stunning, absolutely stunning.

We eventually got to Mount Rushmore and took a huge amount of photos.

Mount Rushmore bathed in sunshine.

Mount Rushmore bathed in sunshine.


Surprisingly some of the best angles were not available from the main viewing area, you actually had to take a small path closer to the mountain to get shots that you could call your own. I’m almost certain there’s not many vertical panoramics from this position…
This is a stitch of multiple single photos. I love this angle!

This is a stitch of multiple single photos. I love this angle!

But actually my favorite photo is probably this horizontal panoramic, which shows the entire mountain.

A photo stitch of five single photos. This huge panoramic photo shows the entire mountain.

A photo stitch of five single photos. This huge panoramic photo shows the entire mountain.


We then left Mount Rushmore and began to head south-west, quickly crossing the border into Wyoming. This was another area with a brand-new landscape over every hill and was even beautiful enough for us to pull over and take photos a couple of times.
Priaire grass in the foreground and the edge of the Black Hills in the background.

Priaire grass in the foreground and the edge of the Black Hills in the background.


It’s an amazing feeling sometimes going over these hills.
When you see the view in the distance you wonder if the world is just going to fall away from you...

When you see the view in the distance you wonder if the world is just going to fall away from you... Taken from the car.


The road continued and crossed into northern Colorado, where I was very surprised to see oil fields (I had no idea). The scenery was again consistently beautiful and different.
Totally different rock formations over every hill!

Totally different rock formations over every hill! Taken from the car.


We then got onto I-25-S and quickly saw a silhouette rising out of the relatively flat land before it…
The Rocky Mountains rise out from the plains. Taken from the car.

The Rocky Mountains rise out from the plains. Taken from the car.


We carried on south on I-25 until I saw a sign for ‘Rocky Mountains National Park’. I decided to turn off and start driving straight towards the mountains. We got closer and closer, eventually driving through the town of Lyons which is where we stopped and took a few photos.
The red rocks of Colorado.

The red rocks of Colorado.


We didn’t want to stay in Colorado (by this point we were done with driving really) so we decided to head back out towards I-25. We did make a quick stop though and took some photos of the silhouetted mountains overlooking a small lake.
These are small mountains compared to the rest of The Rockies, but they looked pretty large to me!

These are small mountains compared to the rest of The Rockies, but they looked pretty large to me!


We then got back on I-25, took it to I-76 and took that to I-80. We drove into the night but eventually stopped in North Platte, Nebraska at our third hotel.
We pulled off the road to get a quick shot of the moon.

We pulled off the road to get a quick shot of the moon.

View Day Three/Four photos from:
Black Hills, Mount Rushmore in sunshine, panoramics and the walkway angles. Wyoming’s 85-S. Colorado’s 85-S. I-25-S. The Rockies. I-80-E (from day three and four).

Wednesday – Day Four.
On day four we simply drove back from Nebraska to Illinois.

Don’t forget to click the gallery links, click the photos embedded here and of course to visit the photo gallery main page. Lastly, don’t forget about Mr. Potatohead!

Should he be the 5th?

Should he be the 5th?

Here is a map of the route taken. Further explanations of each segment can be found beneath.

Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa back to Illinois. About 2500 miles. ©2010 Google.

Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa back to Illinois. About 2500 miles. ©2010 Google.


We set off on Sunday 22nd August, travelling from our home in Tinley Park, Illinois to Mitchell, South Dakota. We stayed at a hotel in Mitchell overnight, having traveled about 660 miles on Sunday.
Day 1: 660 miles from Tinley Park, IL to Mitchell, SD.

Day 1: 660 miles from Tinley Park, IL to Mitchell, SD. ©2010 Google.


On Monday we drove another 300 miles from Mitchell, SD to Hill City, SD. On the way we drove through the north side of The Badlands and Wall, SD.
Day 2: 300+ miles from Mitchell, SD to Hill City, SD.

Day 2: 300+ miles from Mitchell, SD to Hill City, SD. ©2010 Google.


The section of road we used to view The Badlands and get to Wall, SD, was SD 240-W.
Day 2: 50 miles off of I-90-W where we viewed The Badlands.

Day 2: 50 miles off of I-90-W where we viewed The Badlands. ©2010 Google.


Monday evening we traveled from our hotel in Hill City to Keystone, SD and viewed Mt. Rushmore in the evening and at night.
Day 2: A short 15-mile journey from Hill City to Keystone, SD, to view Mount Rushmore. ©2010 Google.

Day 2: A short 15-miles from Hill City to Keystone to view Mt. Rushmore.


Tuesday morning we visited Mount Rushmore again via the same route. We then left directly from there and began our drive south to Colorado. The route would take us through some beautiful scenery in eastern Wyoming and north-east Colorado. The journey used 89-S, 85-S and I-25-S. A total of about 350 miles. We ended up at the base of the Rocky Mountains in a town called Lyons. We spent a short while there before heading towards home using I-76-E to get onto I-80-E. By the time we reached North Platte in Nebraska we had traveled another 273 miles.
Day 3: From South Dakota into Wyoming, then south into Colorado. Then east to Nebraska! 622 miles.

Day 3: From South Dakota into Wyoming, then south into Colorado. Then east to Nebraska! 622 miles. ©2010 Google.


On Wednesday we left North Platte, NE, and continued east, arriving back in Tinley Park, Illinois.
Day 4: From Nebraska all the way home to Illinois. 736 miles. ©2010 Google.

Day 4: From Nebraska all the way home to Illinois. 736 miles. ©2010 Google.

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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.