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South Dakota/Wyoming

On the Road: Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

Program No. 20297RJ
Explore the iconic monuments and national parks of South Dakota and Wyoming. From Mount Rushmore to Old Faithful, from herds of bison to Mammoth Site — this adventure is big!

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At a Glance

Travel from the beautiful Black Hills of Western South Dakota to Wyoming’s parks and monuments on this exceptional adventure. Be mesmerized by natural and manmade wonders at Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and the Mammoth Site in South Dakota. Experience the mystique of Devils Tower Monument, see Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park and take in the majesty of Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole.
Activity Level
On Your Feet
Walking up to 2 miles a day. Getting in/out of motor coach frequently. Elevations of 3,400-7,731 feet.

What You'll Learn

  • Learn how Mount Rushmore was carved at the mountain.
  • Experience the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., the oldest and most comprehensive museum of the American West.
  • View the waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park and look for herds of bison in Hayden Valley.

General Notes

Select dates are designated for small groups and are limited to 24 participants or less.
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While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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10 days
9 nights
20 meals
8 B 6 L 6 D
Check-in, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Please bring your nametag/lanyard(sent previously by RS to your mailing address on file).

Afternoon: 5p.m. Program Orientation followed by dinner. After you check in and have your room assignment, join us in the designated hotel meeting room for registration and orientation. If you arrive late, please ask for your Road Scholar schedule at the hotel front desk.

Dinner: At our designated hotel meeting/dining room, following orientation.

Evening: Orientation. In our private meeting/dining room, the Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This is a Road Scholar On The Road (OTR) program. OTR journeys take participants to multiple study sites within a region number of overnight stays. Lectures, talks, discussions, field trips, and on-board commentary enhance the program theme. Some journeys involve great distances and may take hours, others are much shorter. Long or short, On the Road journeys are learning experiences that make the most of our time together. There will be numerous opportunities for self-directed exploration to see and do what interests each of us most. Participants are responsible for carrying their luggage to/from the motorcoach. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Rock Talk, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer Park
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 4 hours. Walking up to 2 miles; sidewalks, mostly even ground, slight inclines, boardwalks, 708(354 one way) steps on elective 1/2 mile Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore.

Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: We will be joined at the hotel by a local geologist who will give us a "rock talk" lecture on areas we will explore. Next, we will board a motorcoach for our field trip to iconic sites. At the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the majestic 60-foot faces of four U.S. presidents gaze out over South Dakota's Black Hills. Recognized worldwide, they stand as a symbol of American democracy. This national treasure tells the story of the United States' rich history, rugged determination, and lasting achievement. From the Grandview Terrace, the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are spectacular. We'll learn why these four presidents were selected, see how the mountain was carved, and learn about sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the workers who brought Mount Rushmore to life. There will be opportunities to walk the half-mile Presidential Trail that loops along the base of the mountain and to learn more about history and see videos at the Information Center. We will continue to ride through the Black Hills to the Crazy Horse Memorial, where a fifth granite face has emerged in the Black Hills. In 1939, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve an Indian memorial in the Black Hills. Though Korczak died in 1982, the sculptor's family continues the nonprofit project where the colossal mountain carving is now in progress. Crazy Horse is the largest sculptural undertaking ever, on a scale with the Egyptian pyramids. When completed, it will tower 563 feet high and 641 feet long. We'll also have an expert-led exploration of the complex with some time to have a look around on our own.

Lunch: Lunch at the historic Custer State Game Lodge

Afternoon: For our next field trip, we'll ride to the Mammoth Site Museum in Hot Springs and explore with a museum expert. This 36,000 square foot site is a one-of-a-kind "in situ" (in the original place) Ice Age museum containing the largest concentration of Columbian and Woolly Mammoths found in their primary context in the world. We will get a close up view of the 26,000-year-old sinkhole where mammoths, bears, mountain lions, and wolves once walked. The Exhibit Hall features fascinating exhibits including a full-sized Columbian mammoth replica, a walk-in bone shelter, and skeletons of now-extinct carnivores such as a giant short-faced bear. We'll also get a glimpse of scientific work being conducted in the state of the art lab. The Mammoth Site has been featured on the CBS and NBC evening newscasts, the Discovery Channel, the Today Show, BBC Television programs, and in many magazines including National Geographic. The site has co-hosted international symposiums and conferences, as well as published scientific Quaternary research books. En route back to the hotel, we'll take a scenic drive through a portion of Custer State Park that covers 71,000 acres, making it one of the largest state parks in the nation. We'll be on the lookout for some of the wildlife that may be resident here such as bison, pronghorn antelope, mule and whitetail deer, burros, coyotes, wild turkeys, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and golden eagles. Our Group Leader will provide commentary as we ride.

Dinner: Enjoy a group dinner at the hotel in our private dining room.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to use the fitness center, take a dip in the indoor swimming pool, soak in the hot tub, spend time with fellow Road Scholars, or just relax.

Minuteman Missile, Badlands & Visitors Center, Wall Drug
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 3 hours. Walking approximately 2+ miles; sidewalks, boardwalks, overlooks, mostly even ground, slight inclines.

Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: We will board our motorcoach for our first field trip of the day to the Visitor Center at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. With our Group Leader, we'll learn about the Intercontinental Ballistics system and the role it played in the Cold War — the period of geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that lasted for decades. Moving on, we'll ride into Badlands National Park. The scenic drive through Badlands National Park is a mixture of rugged natural beauty, striking multicolored geologic deposits, and one of the world's richest fossil beds. Some ancient mammals found within the Park include rhino, horse, saber-toothed cat, and pig-like creatures. The Lakota Indians knew the place as "mako sica" while early French trappers called the area "les mauvaises terres a traverser"; both mean "bad lands." Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said this: "I've been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands...What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere-a distant architecture, ethereal..., an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it." We will make several stops along the way at points of interest.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: We will continue to journey through the beautiful Badlands National Park. We'll then visit Wall Drug Store, which became famous during the Depression for its free ice water, a tradition that continues to this day. We'll have some time to view the extensive Western Art collection that includes actual brands of local ranchers embedded in the wooden walls.

Dinner: Choose from several area restaurants in Rapid City and enjoy local cuisine while supporting small businesses, or dine at the hotel restaurant. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle for transportation.

Evening: Enjoy your evening out with a stroll and people watching, explore the "City of Presidents" in downtown Rapid City or just relax and the hotel and prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Transfer to Wyoming, Bighorn Mountains, Arrive Cody
Cody, WY
Holiday Inn Buffalo Bill Village

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 6-7 hours not including stops. Walking short distances.

Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: We'll check out of the hotel early morning, board our motorcoach, and depart Rapid City on our way to Cody, Wyoming, founded in 1901 by Colonel William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. As we ride, we'll have expert commentary on subjects such as state history, economics of the oil and coal industry, animals, and people who live in these wide open lands.

Lunch: At the Sheridan, WY Visitor's Center, we'll have a box lunch picnic style.

Afternoon: Continuing our drive, we'll cross the Big Horn Mountains and wind our way through beautiful countryside before arriving in Cody, Wyoming. The Bighorn Mountains and the Bighorn National Forest in north-central Wyoming have been explored by some of America's most famous pioneers, including Jim Bridger and Buffalo Bill Cody. It is land held sacred by the Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, Arapaho, and Eastern Cheyenne Indians — a land of much spilled blood where Native Americans fought some of their most desperate battles with the U.S. military. We expect to arrive in Cody in late afternoon and check in to our hotel. Before arrival, we'll hear about elective evening activities.

Dinner: Dinner on your own, choose from a variety of local restaurants. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to watch the free Cody Gunfight performance in front of Buffalo Bill's historic Irma Hotel, attend the Cody Nite Rodeo, or just experience Main Street's sights and sounds that harken back to the Old West.

Buffalo Bill Museum & Dam, Yellowstone National Park
West Yellowstone
Kelly Inn of West Yellowstone

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 4 hours with stops throughout the day. Self-paced walking from 4 blocks to approximately 1 mile; level surfaces, boardwalks, some inclines, up to 30 steps in places.

Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel dining room

Morning: We will board the motorcoach and ride to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for a self-directed exploration. The museum was founded in 1917 to preserve the legacy and vision of Col. William F. Cody. The BBHC is the oldest and most comprehensive museum of the West with collections containing more than 34,977 artifacts, 20,000 books, and 260,000 photo archives. The Center consists of the Harold McCracken Research Library, dedicated in 1980, and five separate museums: The Whitney Western Art Museum, established in 1958 and dedicated in 1959; the Buffalo Bill Museum, established in 1927, dedicated in 1969; the Plains Indian Museum, 1969; Cody Firearms Museum, dedicated in 1976; the Draper Museum of Natural History, dedicated in 2002. Next, we'll make a short stop at the Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center where a local expert will give us a talk. It was originally called the Shoshone Dam. Drilling to find bedrock for the foundation began in the spring of 1904. More than 82,900 cubic yards of concrete were used to build the dam, and seven men were killed during construction. When completed in 1910, it was the tallest dam in the world with a final cost of $929,658. The dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been documented by the Bureau of Reclamation, and included in the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Survey. Moving on to Yellowstone National Park, we'll enter via the East Entrance.

Lunch: We will stop at Buffalo Bill Cody's old hunting lodge, now known as Pahaska Tepee, and enjoy a sack lunch.

Afternoon: We will continue driving along the Yellowstone River to Hayden Valley: a favorite place to watch for animals such as bison, elk, deer, once-in-a-while bear, and birds such as osprey, eagles, Canada Geese, and pelicans. We'll also look for thermal features such as mud pots and steamy "dragon" springs as well as colors of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with its spectacular Upper and Lower waterfalls. Yellowstone National Park is known for the most geysers in the world. About 2 million years ago, huge volcanic eruptions occurred here and the park's present central portion collapsed, forming a 30-by-45 mile caldera, or basin. The magmatic heat powering those eruptions still today powers the park's geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots, all of which we will have opportunities to see. Waterfalls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone highlight the boundaries of lava flows and thermal areas. One 19th century visitor, Nathaniel Lanford, wrote: "As I took in the scene, I realized my own littleness, my helplessness, my dread exposure to destruction, my inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature." We expect to check in to the hotel late afternoon.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. There are numerous dining choices in walking distance of the hotel.

Evening: At leisure. Enjoy the rest of your evening strolling West Yellowstone or just relaxing at the hotel. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Yellowstone Park, Fountain Paint Pots, Old Faithful Geyser
Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Valley Wyoming
Jackson Lake Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down several times throughout the day; driving approximately 3-4 hours. Walking from approximately 1/4 mile to 1 mile at several sites; sidewalks, boardwalks, and indoors.

Breakfast: In the hotel hospitality room, enjoy a self-serve breakfast.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we will board a motorcoach and drive from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful area along the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers to the Fountain Paint pots. With our Group Leader, we will follow the boardwalk to observe several types of thermal features including mud pots, hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, steam vents, and bacteria mat — all within one half-mile. We'll then ride to Old Faithful, the world's best-known geyser. Its eruptions vary at intervals from 40 to 126 minutes. Park Rangers will be available during our self-directed exploration. There are many boardwalks to explore the geyser basin around Old Faithful. During your self-directed exploration, you might like to visit the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and see exhibits on hydrothermal features, life in extreme environments, and the Greater Yellowstone region's volcanic geology. The center has information and maps regarding Ranger programs, Ranger led walks, and talks.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like in the Old Faithful area. Choices within walking distance include the cafeteria dining room, bar and grille, deli, and ice cream shop. Our Group Leader will point out the lay of the land.

Afternoon: Continuing our self-directed exploration, you might like to hear some of the Ranger presentations and/or walk through the Historic Old Faithful Inn on your own and hear from a hotel expert. Built during the winter of 1903-04, the Inn was designed by Robert Reamer and is a designated National Historic Landmark. It is a masterpiece of rustic architecture reflecting the chaos of nature. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure with gigantic proportions. The lobby features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted Lodgepole pine. Mid to late afternoon, we will reboard our motorcoach and ride through the south gate to Grand Teton National Park along the Rockefeller Parkway that connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The late conservationist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made significant contributions to several national parks including Grand Teton, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Virgin Islands. We expect to check in to the lodge late afternoon.

Dinner: Dining at the Historic Jackson Lake Lodge.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to take a walk, swim in the outdoor heated pool (June-August), watch for wildlife, or just relax in the Grand Lobby of the Lodge. Check the lobby information board for special evening presentations or activities.

Grand Teton National Park, Free Time
Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Valley Wyoming
Jackson Lake Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 2 hours. Walking up to 1 mile; sidewalks, paved areas. Extent and duration of free time activities according to personal choice.

Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at the historic Jackson Lake Lodge

Morning: We will board a motorcoach and travel along the scenic loop road of the Tetons. As we ride, there will be opportunities to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the mountains at several picture stops and Jenny Lake. We'll then arrive at Craig Thomas Visitor Discovery Center for a self-directed overview of the history, culture and geology of the Tetons. Next, we'll ride to the town of Jackson.

Lunch: On your own to have what you like in the town of Jackson. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: We expect to return to the lodge by approximately 1:30 p.m. The remainder of the afternoon is free to go for a walk and watch for animals and birds, take in the majestic view of the Teton Mountains, or just relax. Grand Teton National Park is located in northwestern Wyoming and comprises more than 310,000 acres of unique landscapes rich with breathtaking lakes, majestic mountains, alpine terrain, and extraordinary wildlife. The infamous Jackson Hole sits at the foothills of the Tetons Mountain range and is a popular destination for millions of visitors each year with its Western character and small town charm.

Dinner: On your own to explore dining choices at Jackson Lake Lodge.

Evening: At leisure. Check the lobby information board for special evening presentations or activities. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Dubois Museum, Shoshone National Forest, Wind River
Casper, WY
Hampton Inn & Suites Casper

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 4 hours including a stop. Walking up to 1/2 mile; paved sidewalks.

Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at the historic Jackson Lake Lodge.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we'll board a motorcoach and set out on a field trip to the little town of Dubois and their local Museum. The Dubois Museum collects, preserves, and interprets artifacts and other materials including those of geologic importance, beginning with Precambrian Era and extending through the end of the timber industry in the 1980’s. The focus of the collection is on the Upper Wind River Valley We'll then ride through the Shoshone National Forest and on through the Wind River Range that stretches more than 100 miles in western Wyoming. Our Group Leader will point out some of the 35 named peaks above 13,000 feet in elevation including Gannett Peak, Wyoming's highest. Seven of the largest glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are located in the Wind River Range. Continuing our ride, we will pass through the Wind River Indian Reservation that spans 2.2 million acres and is home to 2,500 Eastern Shoshone and more than 5,000 Northern Arapaho Indians. Although the two tribes own and govern the reservation jointly, most of the Shoshone live in the western half around Fort Washakie, while the Arapaho are centered on the East.

Lunch: In the town of Riverton, we'll have lunch at a family-owned restaurant.

Afternoon: Aboard the motorcoach, we'll see videos to learn about the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails while continuing our ride to Casper, Wyoming. Arriving at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, we'll have an introduction from an expert followed by time for independent exploration. We'll have opportunities to learn about the importance of the emigrants crossing the prairies and see what their journey entailed. We'll see exhibits related to names that are legendary in Western history on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails. We'll be able to imagine the real-life drama that the half-million pioneers experienced as they followed these trails between 1841 and 1868. We expect to arrive at the hotel for check-in late afternoon.

Dinner: Enjoy a buffet style group dinner at a local restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to take a dip in the indoor pool, soak in the hot tub, work out in the exercise room, take a walk, join fellow Road Scholars for a game of cards, or just relax. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Casper to Gillette, Devils Tower, Arrive Rapid City
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 4-5 hours including stops. Walking approximately 2 miles; paved path, one steep incline at Devils Tower followed by several gentle inclines.

Breakfast: In the hotel hospitality room, enjoy a self-serve breakfast.

Morning: We'll check out of the hotel and begin our journey back to Rapid City. As we ride from Casper, we'll pass through oil and gas fields, coal mines, and ranch country with commentary by our Group Leader. The coal industry of Wyoming recently reached production of more than 496 million tons, providing 400+ coal-related jobs. The Salt Creek Oil Field north of Casper was at one time the largest light crude oil field in the world and historically one of the most important petroleum deposits in Wyoming. We'll learn how present-day operations have extended the life of the field. We'll also hear about the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s that involved the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, government lands, oil men, bribery, and corruption. Continuing our ride, we'll reach Devils Tower National Monument. The National Park Service website states: "The Tower is an astounding geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people." About 60 million years ago, molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns. President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as America's first national monument in 1906. It was a key feature in the 1977 movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." We'll take a walk around the base of Devils Tower on a paved path with medium to steep incline the first 1/8 of a mile, followed by a combination of flat and gentle inclines the rest of the 1.3-mile paved trail. Those who prefer to watch and wait are welcome to do so at the small Badlands Visitor Center. There are also Ranger talks most days.

Lunch: Picnic lunch near Devil's tower.

Afternoon: The final leg of our ride back to Rapid City will take approximately two hours. Watch for various kinds of animals while traveling across wide-open spaces. How many jackrabbits, deer, pronghorn, and coyotes can you spot among the miles of Artemisia Tridentata (more commonly called Wyoming Big Sagebrush)? The song "Lonesome Cowboy" expresses what it means to cowboy ranchers who tend their sheep and cattle in this part of the state where the nearest neighbor might be 20 miles away. We expect to arrive at the hotel late afternoon for check-in. Be sure to make arrangements with the hotel front desk staff for the shuttle to the airport in the morning.

Dinner: Dinner at private hotel dining room. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure tomorrow.

Program Concludes
Rapid City, South Dakota

Activity note: Hotel check-out 12:00 Noon.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don't forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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