ALL of a sudden it appears through the trees. An enormous cliff carved with giant faces. This is Mount Rushmore, etched more than 70 years ago with the faces of four American presidents, writes NICK DALTON
It's one of the iconic sights of the US yet is hidden in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Not far away is the equally awesome Crazy Horse Memorial, a whole mountain being sculpted into a statue of the warrior chief on his horse.
Just down the road is Deadwood, a Victorian-era cowboy town.
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The North American west is full of surprises on both sides of the border.
In Canada, I've marvelled at the big city streets of Calgary. Sited on the edge of mountains in Alberta, its streets turn into party locations during the annual Calgary Stampede, a massive rodeo celebrating its centenary this July.
In the US, I've sat astride horses and crossed the high plains in Wyoming and Montana, returning to a log ranch house to enjoy a steak that barely fits on the plate.
I've spent days happily driving on roads that curve between the astonishing snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, whether in Colorado or British Columbia.
Then there is Yellowstone National Park, perhaps North America's finest, wildest countryside, spanning a vast area. It's the site of an extinct volcano, with lakes, mountains, hot pools and erupting geysers such as the giant Old Faithful.
Just about the only way to see all these attractions is by driving. The open roads draw you into the vast scenery topped by even vaster skies.
In Canada, both Frontier Canada and Canadian Affair arrange flights and tailor-made trips. From Calgary, the usual gateway, it's an easy drive into the mountains to the ruggedly beautiful town of Banff, where you can take a truly memorable cable-car ride to the top of 8,000ft Sulphur Mountain.
Then there is Lake Louise, where the castle-like Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel sits by the lake, the waters reflecting the backdrop of the Victoria glacier.
Go farther and you are on the Icefields Parkway, a breathtaking 140-mile road passing the Athabasca Glacier, where you can take a snowcoach on the ice up to the town of Jasper, where elk wander the streets.
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Over in the US, in the Rocky Mountain states, there are endless places to stay, from the log-built Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone to the Sun Valley Lodge in Idaho, where Gary Cooper used to holiday and the Amangani resort on a ridge above the Snake River in Wyoming, as well as cowboy-era hotels and modern condos.
This is why it's worth hiring a motorhome. Several companies offer them in a package or you can book your own through Cruise America.