South Dakota has never really been on my radar for a vacation location. Not that I had anything against South Dakota, but it's a long ways away from home, I don't believe I have any family there, it's not really on the route to visit any family that I would drive to visit, and there is no major ski resorts. However, on this trip, South Dakota was kind of a big mile stone: South Dakota is where we marked one month on the road, it is where we cross the middle of the USA (if you take a map of the USA and fold it down the middle you'll find the Dakota's, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas), and it was the our first real honest to goodness motel stay (in Rapid City).
We had 3 days to explore Western South Dakota with our first couple nights in a motel in Rapid City. As we drove from Billings Montana to Rapid City the last few hours of the drive was foggy with a misty rain, signs kept displaying messages to not use cruise control when the highway is wet. We finally reached the motel that Kathy found a Comfort Inn. The motel seemed like such luxury after all of us living for a month in a tiny box in the bed of a pickup truck. To be able to take a shower when ever you want without walking across a campground with your towel and change of clothes was a very welcomed luxury.
The next morning the weather was still a bit overcast, originally we had planned on visiting Mount Rushmore but decided rather than head south we would head east to the Badlands National Park. I opted to go to the eastern most entrance to Badlands National Park park and head back west though the park. On the way to the eastern entrance, we would pass the visitor center for Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Kathy suggested we stop and check it out. As we pulled up to the visitor center I wasn't sure what I would find, there wasn't much there other than a small building. We went inside and spoke with volunteer, the visitor center had only been open for operations for just a few weeks. Despite being open such a short period of time, the visitor center had a lot of information about ICBMs and the cold war. The museum brought back some bad childhood memories of the 1983 TV movie The Day After, but I was intrigued. We decided we should take a tour of the underground command facility. We got tickets with plans to visit after our tour of Bad Lands National Park.
Badlands National Park was incredible. Coming in from the eastern entrance it we were told to stop at the first spot after we entered the park by the volunteer at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and that from there we could see all the way to Kansas. I don't know if I could quite see that far, but it was a pretty incredible view from an otherwise pretty flat part of the planet. Unlike many other National Park areas, there park didn't seem to have any warnings about not wandering off the trail because you might damage the natural beauty. What they did have were numerous signs warning you about the rattle snakes. That was enough to mostly keep my daughters on the trail.
|Lots of scary snake warnings to keep the kids on the path|
|Lots of sunflowers in South Dakota|
|Our home parked in Badlands National Park|
|Badlands National Park|
We decided to make up for the missed tour with a visit to the Wall Drug drugstore in Wall South Dakota, the original Wall Drug Store. It's actually kind of hard to miss because there are signs in a hundred miles in every direction advertising it.
The next day the weather had cleared up and promised to offer much better conditions for viewing Mount Rushmore National Monument. The drive from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore takes you though more tourist attractions than I thought possible (Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, Old MacDonald's Farm, etc, etc). At Mount Rushmore we got in our obligitory family pictures and then walked the Presidential Trail, which providing countless different angles to photograph the mountain. After a few hours I think we had run out of photograph ideas, and the girls were starting to get tired with anything other than the idea of the gift store, so it was time to move on.
I pushed for a visit to Wind Cave National Park with hopes of making up for a previous family cave experience in the Ape Caves on Mount Saint Helens (turns out an hour plus hike in a pitch dark lava tube with nothing but pen lights isn't a good family activity). The tour of Wind Cave did not disappoint. I even suggested a second tour immediately following our first one, but after hiking over a 1/2 mile to over 200 feet underground, Kathy was ready for some above ground time.
We decided to stay in Wind Caves National Park at a campground a short distance from the visitor center where we took the cave tour. The campground was mostly shut down, with only one open section and the water turned off, and very few visitors. At night with open skies and very little light we had excellent viewing of the stars, satellites, and falling stars. As we went to bed, we could hear the distant sounds of elk.
The next morning we got an early start. We had planned to make it all the way across South Dakota and camp at a state park in Minnesota, but we still wanted to get in an early visit to Crazy Horse Memorial before we started our journey across the state. Crazy Horse Memorial was pretty impressive considering construction has been ongoing for over 60 years, that the head of Crazy Horse alone will be larger than all of the presidents on Mount Rushmore and that the entire memorial takes no government funds (it's all privately funded).
South Dakota is yet another state we will have to return to and visit again. I could imagine a week long visit where we spend then entire time hiking the Badlands and the Black Hills. Perhaps even a visit or two to those tourist attractions leading up to Mount Rushmore.
|When driving though South Dakota on I-90 you have to stop in Wall and visit the original Wall Drug|
|The night skies above Wind Cave National Park|
|Crazy Horse Monument|