It all became clear when I walked into the 'lobby' to get a room. I should have known something was amiss when the girl on the phone said that only rooms upstairs were available. I had told her that was fine - semi-wondering why she would make a point to say that, followed by an expectant pause - but I just shrugged it off. But then when I went in and got a key, and she told me again about there being only upstairs rooms open, it hit me - perhaps just the ground floor was really for nightly use and the upstairs was for, um, longer stays. When I inquired what exactly she meant by 'the upstairs' she simply said, "Well, not the ground floor." Oh, okay. So we unloaded and settled in. The kids were excited to be anywhere, especially anywhere with a pool, and hubby was so laid back about everything that I felt a bit guilty not wanting to even take off my sandals in the room. Fast forward to that evening as we walked around, looking for a place to eat, and I happened to say something about the hotel being more like a residence. My daughter quickly began the inquisition and I said what I said and left it at that. So...here are some observations that might come in handy if you're in the Mt. Rushmore area:
Rapid City, SD is about 23 miles from Mt. Rushmore, and off the main highway, which makes it a great stopping point for the night. It's part-tourist, part-resident with plenty of places to stay and eat. Hotel prices range from $66+tax to over 100 a night.
Keystone, SD is within a few minutes of the Memorial and is quite active. Lots of shops and activities and hotels boasting low, low prices for rooms. Unless you're a single person and need only one bed, then the $49.95 price will not apply to you. Nevertheless, the increased rate for a two-bed room might be well worth it.
Based on my experience, I would recommend staying in Keystone and paying (what would have cost us) $10 more for a room that is right in the hustle and bustle of town with access to a pool and gift shops and dining, OR, staying in Rapid City (and paying a bit more that $79+tax) where things have more of a local feel and where you can resume your highway journey easily.
Quick synopsis of our day in South Dakota: drive straight to Mt. Rushmore from campsite in Sheridan, WY - $11 a car load and full access to everything. Hike up to memorial, snap some pics, check out the gift shop, look for a place to stay. Outside dining at Mexican restaurant next to 'motel' when storm comes in and hail starts falling like crazy. Move inside, power goes off and we finish our meal in the dark. Walk back to motel, still no power, kids go to bed and hubby and I join the locals on the balcony and watch the lighting. All in all, an adventure as always and our kiddos now take anything that comes their way with such nonchalance that I sometimes wonder if they're even paying attention. But, for those of you who have not traveled much with kids, know this: It gets easier with each trip. Know that things will not be perfect nor easy nor clean, but also remember that the more you do it, the less of a hassle it is (i'm talkin' to you sarah!). So pack your bags and hit the road!