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My Favorite Road Trip: Mount Rushmore

Visiting South Dakota’s Black Hills and Badlands

Take a trip with AAA Member Travel Counselor Heather Walmsley from Bremerton, Washington, to Mount Rushmore. Her favorite road trip all started with a hand-drawn map on a napkin.

Heather Walmsley has always loved to travel. Before taking a job as a travel counselor with AAA Washington, Walmsley worked on cruise ships for stints lasting several months. And it was on one of those ships toward the end of her contracted time that she happened to receive a map from an experienced traveler drawn on a cocktail napkin.

It showed some of the main sights on the road from her home in Bremerton, Washington, to Deadwood, South Dakota. At the time, Walmsley was planning a trip to Mount Rushmore with her parents via their “5th Wheel,” or RV.

“You get to talking to passengers on board your cruise ship,” Walmsley says. “There was this really nice gentleman who wrote out a little map for me of all the places that I should stop at and see.”

And then, with the map in tow, she was ready to venture out.

Map drawn on a napkin
A map drawn on a napkin inspired Heather Walmsley to plan a road trip to Mount Rushmore. Photo courtesy of Walmsley.

Walmsley and her folks — Ed and Marie — planned to camp along the three-day drive and eventually land in South Dakota. This would then become their homebase for various day trips.

“We don’t do hotels,” she says.

While the aim was to see Mount Rushmore, Walmsley and her family visited the Crazy Horse Memorial in Crazy Horse, South Dakota. They visited Deadwood, too, and learned about Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley. In addition, her father is a big fan of trains, so they rode on an old-fashioned locomotive from Hill City. They saw the Badlands National Park (her father has a goal of visiting all the national parks). They also visited the Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota, population about 750. It is tourist landmark in the Badlands that once had to bribe potential visitors with free coffee and lemonade to visit. Billboards now advertise its out-of-the way location.  

“Now, the saying is ‘Where in the World is Wall Drug?’” says Walmsley. “That’s what you see on bumper stickers and the billboards.” 

Heather Walmsley at Mount Rushmore
Heather Walmsley at Mount Rushmore. Photo courtesy of Heather Walmsley.

Although the destinations were all delightful and interesting, so was the journey. Walmsley is close to her parents. She lives a few minutes away from them in Bremerton. So, to be separated from her family for months on end on those cruise ships created the need to bond again.

On the trip, Walmsley was the navigator, the comedy relief, the keeper of the map and more. She loves the history of various locations and learning about the decision-making that went into people settling in the locales. She loves reading and learning.

“I want to know how these people got here,” Walmsley says. “What drove them to this place to settle. That’s where my curious mind goes.”

To see Mount Rushmore was a real highlight for Walmsley. Getting to take it all in was breathtaking.

“I had always since I was little wanted to see Mount Rushmore,” she says. “I did get a little teary-eyed.”

–Written by Jake Uitti
–Top photo by Heather Walmsley

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